The Life and Times : Suburban Hymns
It began with volume. Distortion, aggression and tension wrapped in a tight but murky package, Shiner were the sludgy Midwestern counterparts to D.C.’s Jawbox. From Splay on, the band hurled noisy, bass-heavy rockers upon us like Zeus to the unsuspecting Greeks. But soon enough, those lightning bolts became more accurate, more finely-tuned, a product of the tension overcoming the murkiness and the gift of experience turning their unfiltered aggression into a more sophisticated, yet still powerful energy. With The Egg, both extremes of volume and subtlety collided, burning in a bright blue flash that left a pile of ashes and a brilliant, yet almost ethereal glow. That glow, hazy and amorphous as it was, still emitted a signal as bright as the Aurora Borealis. That glow became what we now know as The Life and Times.
Shiner’s inferno, hot as it was, eventually had to come to a close, as we fans watched in dismay. (Some of us didn’t even watch, as we never had the chance to see them live, but whatever) Yet, The Life and Times, the new outfit fronted by Shiner’s Allen Epley, came to us as a beacon of hope. Like Shiner without the primal aggression, or Hum without the overblown quiet/loud dynamics, TLAT are putting the focus back on what they refer to on their first EP as “the flat end of the earth.” This end, in their case, is Kansas City. And though locals like Season To Risk, The Get Up Kids and The Anniversary have all bid us adieu, The Life and Times have something to offer us, that being a vaguely familiar return to that murky rock, with most of the murk sifted out in favor of a cleaner, more mature sound.
Yeah, I used that pesky “mature” word. But it mostly lies in the production. It sounds a lot less overwhelming and bound by piercing distortion. Instead, delay pedals have taken over, distortion still lingering, though taking a backseat to other effects. From opener “My Last Hostage,” the ghost of Shiner haunts Suburban Hymns, though Epley has clearly chosen the path of most gazed-at shoes. Epley is taking a swervy ride on a bloody valentine’s day, and he seems to end up in a place somewhat familiar, just a little off.
Much rocking is to be heard, as “Coat of Arms” provides a more upbeat and almost pogo-able tune with a catchy melody to match. “Muscle Cars” shows the pace slowing, however, with a melancholy, reverb-driven tune that’s reminiscent of later Sunny Day Real Estate more than Shiner. Yet, “Skateland” makes for an epic, unsettling anthem with ringing notes and strange lyrical imagery like “When you scaled the bathroom wall/with knives between our teeth we crawled.”
There seems to be a balance between glimmering moments of pure melody and the occasional rock-out. If you’ve seen them live, you’d know that they play a strikingly louder version of what you would expect to hear. Allen Epley hasn’t given up his penchant for distortion-fueled post-hardcore, but he’s certainly stirring other elements into the pot. The volume, though faded, still seems to be present, as is the tension. But the aggression has dissipated, disintegrating into a fog, disappearing into the nebulous yet brilliant glow.
Shiner – The Egg
Failure – Fantastic Planet
Sunny Day Real Estate – The Rising Tide
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.