by Andrew Garrison
Full Disclaimer: I have often called myself a “Hipster Sympathizer”. Whereas, I understanding the plight of the hipster, and share some hipster qualities, but do not embrace the full lifestyle. Some of these qualities include practicing yoga, drinking craft beer and having a general aversion to mainstream music. Considering I write about indie music for this very blog, I doubt this is some sort of revelation to anyone reading this. Disclaimer #2: If you have watched any sort of broadcast in the last six months or so, you have already heard American Authors, you might not of known it at the time, but their song “Best Day of My Life” has been recently featured in the Lowes commercial, reminding you of all of the joys of moving day. American Authors has also been named a VH1 “Band on the Rise” and was awarded an MTV-U Woodie Award for “Music College Students Love”. So there is that too.
For the last year of so, there has been a definite trend in “Alternative Music” or whatever Billboard is calling it nowadays featuring a ton of artists who have some sort of faux-folk sound to them. I don’t know exactly where/how it started. But with acts like The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Mumford and Sons, Phillip Phillips etc. etc. toting banjos, adding stomps, “Hey”s “Oh”s and other nonsensical vocals to songs have taken folk music staples and made them generally poppy and overall, quite corny. American Authors seems like an act gleefully waiting to carry the torch.
“Believer” is the opening track and neatly fits my prediction of them being the heir apparent to the faux-folk throne. With the presence of banjos mixed in with more of pop rock elements in terms of tempo and vocals and is a generally upbeat track. The seemingly forced clapping and stomping throughout the track really hammer my point home. “Think About It” is poppy-er yet in terms of vocals but does have a neat little piano bit and is overall pretty catchy. “Best Day of My Life” is the Lowes song, which I will not say more about. I am already sick of it. So are you. Even if you didn’t know it yet, you are. “Luck” is a generally unremarkable song, really just giving us more of the same. “Trouble” could be my favorite song on this album. Slower at first and it skews more towards a legitimate folk realm, at least at first, and in between choruses with some harmonization. However, even “Trouble” has some of the nonsensical wailing and “Oooh”s that seem forced and calculated. “Hit It” is much faster than its peers and has a pop-punk kind of vibe to it. The song seems like it was designed to induce some sort of PG-Rated mosh pit. “Home” is an attempt at an emotional, arena rock type of song. Lyrics mentioning that they are not attempting to do anything monumental, like “stop a hurricane” come off as ironic due to the grandiose of the song itself. “Love” breaks up the same ole schtick, albeit briefly, with some deep, industrial type production notes. However, this little effect could be easily lost; especially considering immediately following they break back into big, though empty musical gestures. While the name and lyrics of “Heart of Stone” seem to suggest a scorned and angst track, the music doesn’t jive with the message. The end result is a song that I can imagine blaring outside of any Hollister store in America. For a song titled “Ghost” you wouldn’t imagine it to be so upbeat and optimistic, but it is. This track, like most of the album, is laden with the “Oooh”s and “Hey!”s, which I am sure I don’t have to further express my distaste for. “Oh, What a Life” (Look, this time they even put an “Oh!” in the title!), the titular track of the album is without a doubt the best suited to end the album. It has a lighters (or phones. Kids don’t smoke anymore do they?) in the air, kind of feel to it. It is something that I can envision them ending shows with. And while leading off rather soft and folky, they don’t stick to it, breaking back into old habits with faster drums and pop vocals. And who can forget the “Ooohs”!
A lot of this sounds quite cynical, because frankly, well it is. However, just about every song on the album is catchy in its own way. Unfortunately, for me, it isn’t the good, cool catchy. More like the, “Dear God, why is this song still stuck in my head? What can I do to end this suffering??” type of way. Its catchy-ness seems manufactured in a way to appease the MTVs and Billboards of the world. There really isn’t anything groundbreaking done here, just following a pseudo folk formula that is as tried and true as you can get. Perhaps I am being over cynical because before I listened to the whole album, I already heard one song roughly 300,000 times. Regardless, to me, the whole album seems, either by destiny or design, like each track was made for commercials, shopping malls and Real World background music.