Nicole Glennon gives her take on the 'sure to delight' Amber Run's latest album.
After a turbulent 2016, Nottingham natives Amber Run returned Friday with their silver lining - their sophomore album, "For A Moment, I Was Lost." After being dropped by their record label RCA and losing their drummer Felix Archer, the record was composed during a time when it was unclear whether there would still be an Amber Run in 2017. "We were lost," front man Joe Keogh confessed, the album title clearly reflecting the state in which the band found themselves. It's unsurprising, therefore, that dark themes permeate the record; depression, failure and self-loathing to name but a few.
The album is masterfully crafted, combining all the best elements of their debut record '5am' and building on them to create something gloriously atmospheric, without slacking lyrically. At times, they're mellow and muted (Haze, Machine), at others they're energetic and powerful (No Answers, Perfect), but there's not a moment where they aren't good.
Insomniac opens the record, hurried and fast-paced with smashing keys and crashing drums. It's a decent opener that hints at what's to come - a more mature and dynamic album than it's predecessor. Musically, the sound is more alt-rock than alt-indie like we heard on '5am', something that feels right for the band at the present moment. Another change on this record might be the strength in the lyrics. One of the criticisms the now quartet got for their debut was that the lyrics were lacking, but on this LP they're clever, honest and hard-hitting. The second track on the album, No Answers, is a good example of this. "And I can forgive you / But I can't forget you / Because the things you said are etched inside my brain" and "I'll be the shadow that you see at night / That shred of doubt in the back of your mind" are two of the most potent lines on the track and Keogh's powerful vocals on the number deliver them perfectly.
One thing that has always made Amber Run stand-out from their contemporaries is their ability to incorporate beautiful harmonies into their indie/alt-rock tracks. Fickle Game showcases this while the blunt, honest lyrics ("I wanna be older, I wanna be stronger / I don't wanna fall at the start") reveal their growth. It beings with some simple piano chords before harmonies, percussion, guitar and bass turn it into something greater. However, it's Haze that brings us the closest to the stunning harmonies of I Found from their debut '5am' (if you haven't heard the latter, this performance with the London Contemporary Voices choir is worth checking out). At just under 2 minutes, Haze is a beautiful break that lies in the middle of the record. It's a glorious haze (sorry, not sorry) of harmony that is a perfect accompaniment to the despairing lyrics. Described by the band themselves as "a plea for someone or something to come along and get you back on your feet," this acapella track is sure to be simply stunning live.
Things stay muted on the following track, White Lie, a song that seems to describe the struggle of dealing with depression. There's something cathartic in the chorus as Keogh sings out "I am a failure, I am a disaster, and I don't want to be anything else / I am a loner, I am a loser, I don't want to be anything else.." It's one of the simpler tracks on the album, reminiscent of the title track of '5am', but it's not at a loss for it. The pace picks up again on Perfect, an anthem for the angry and frustrated. "Karma, karma, please bear what I am owed," Keogh yells out over crashing guitars, frantic guitar riffs and deep bass lines. If the line is inspired by the band not reaching the heights they were promised, I really hope karma pulls it out of the bag and they get the recognition they deserve this time around.
Dark Bloom is, as indicated by it's title, one of the darkest moments on the LP. Keogh's patient and steady vocals are contrasted with fast-paced drumming, the repetition of "Oh I worshipped you" finally getting a cathartic release on the last chorus as our lead singer hollers out "now I am tortured by you" accompanied by frantic drumming and squelching guitars. Meanwhile, Machine is the most delicate, touching moment on the album. It's slow and soft - self-doubt writing a love letter. Keogh's vulnerable vocals are perfection here, especially on "But do you love me? Do you love me?" It's one of my favourite tracks on the record.
Despite the subject matter of the closing track Wastelands (a break-up), it's a hopeful end to the LP. It's not without sadness, ("We started as a fever / we turned into an ache that never goes" and "It happened piece by piece / It happened just a little at a time / And then the bruises started showing" are particularly cutting) but the anger and accusations are gone. Instead, the band unite here in gorgeous harmony to sing "And I know you'll fall in love again / When you do, I hope you'll find somebody / Who you can love like I love you." It's a stunning closing number that combines all of Amber Run's best qualities - haunting harmonies, vulnerable vocal moments and develops into a powerful, all-encompassing musical experience with crashing drums, smashing keys, glorious guitar riffs and the perfect climax.
If I've a criticism for the record, it's missing the vibrant, frantically happy tunes we got on '5am' (Spark, Heaven) but overall, "For A Moment, I Was Lost" is a much more mature and cohesive piece than its predecessor and delivers a record that is sure to delight both critics and fans alike.