Said the Whale is making lemonade with all of the lemons they’ve been given. With their latest release, As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide, the band deals with a lot of heavy stuff but keeps the lyrics positive and the sound upbeat. There have been some big changes for Said the Whale lately: the former quintet is now a trio, vocalist/guitarist Tyler Bancroft and his partner had a healthy baby after suffering a miscarriage, keyboardist/backing vocalist Jaycelyn Brown got married, the other co-frontman Ben Worcester broke up with his girlfriend of six years (but later got back together,) and a friend passed away since 2013’s hawaiii. Along with all of these life changes, the band’s sound has changed now that they’re on their fifth studio album. As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide is heavy on synth and drum machine (one of the members they lost was their founding drummer.) Guitars, once prominent, are sparingly sprinkled around the album like a pinch of salt.
Many of the difficult life events that affected the band recently became subject matter for the album. There is such devotion to loved ones and such positivity about moving forward in the lyrics that, coupled with the upbeat, the songs don’t seem all that sad. The exception to the happy sound, of course, is the fluttery, completely synthesized “Miscarriage.” It’s blunt and covers exactly what the title says, sung to the woman who lost the pregnancy. Sung in a monotone, with disbelief and shell shock, the singer recounts having to tell family and friends about the loss and reassures his partner that they’ll still have a family. Despite being such a sad topic, it becomes a love song to his partner. Even the breakup song on the album is full of love and devotion. “Step into the Darkness” wonders if the relationship is at its natural end; if so, the couple will walk into the darkness of a breakup together. It’s a really happy sounding song and there’s no blame or hate. It even still refers to the song’s subject as “sweet love of mine.” “I Will Follow You” seems to be the follow-up to “Step,” where they have worked it out but acknowledge it will still be difficult in a sweet, dance-worthy song. “Emily Rose,” sung to a friend who passed away in a car accident, is full of love, devotion, and maybe a little disbelief as they promise to leave a light on in case she comes home. Until I found out the background, I assumed the song was about another really friendly breakup.
As mentioned above, the band’s sound has changed substantially. The use of the drum machine can probably be explained by the recent departure of Spencer Schoening, their founding drummer. There’s a lot more synth and keyboards now, which is a good pairing for the drum beats. The vocal harmonies created by all three members are lovely and, at times, quite dreamy. Many of the songs verge on dream pop or indie pop rather than the indie rock/folk of past albums. “Confidence” sounds like Chromeo tried dream pop. It’s a bit of a departure from the other tracks, but the synth is the unifying factor that keeps the album cohesive. Very few songs feature guitar in a noticeable way. “Emily Rose” has acoustic guitar and a mandolin, plus great vocal harmonies, making this the only foray into indie folk. “Lilac and Willow,” an echo-y, floaty song about dreaming, is roughened up with fuzzy electric guitar riffs. “I Will Follow You” has guitar, but it is coupled with 80s-style synth that takes over at many points. “Follow” also features what I think is a children’s toy piano. Speaking of surprising sounds, I’m pretty sure “Beautiful Morning” features mining sound effects from Minecraft and a saxophone but, unlike the cute tiny piano on “Follow,” I’m not sure sure why they were included. I lost the message of the song and started picturing mining pixelated blocks with Kenny G.
As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide is a departure from Save the Whale’s previous work, but it’s worth checking out for old fans and new listeners alike. It’s a happy-sounding album packed with dark subject matter and a really positive attitude. It’s soft and ear-pleasing; a nice, easy serving of lemonade whether or not life is giving you lemons right now.