w/ Dashboard Confessional
Showbox, Sat March 16, $12.50.
You don't expect a band that gathered an instant, devoted following among both traditional indie pop lovers as well as the emo kids to switch directions on only its second full-length album. But that's just what the Anniversary has done on Your Majesty, which finds the Lawrence, Kansas, band digging deeper into the vintage sounds of the '60s and '70s, creating a densely layered, 11-track disc that rarely recalls the buoyancy of 2000's Designing a Nervous Breakdown.
That's not to say that the Anniversary has gone and gotten all heavy on those of us whose ears are attuned to the quintet's fiery, keyboard-laden pop, which made vibrant use of both male and female vocals without bringing in the bummer dynamic of oh, say, Rainer Maria. But Your Majesty introduces a mature sense of placement--an attuned knowledge of what should go here and what should be saved for better use somewhere else. What starts off sweeping might end in a gentle lilt or a tumultuous flurry of guitar. Shouts are bolstered by synthesized strings, or backed by cooing harmonies. The forgivable inconsistency that marred Designing a Nervous Breakdown is replaced by a keen sense of structure and the tidy integration of dual lyricists Josh Berwanger and Justin Roelofs.
Berwanger is the constantly tortured of the two, and his lyrics suggest more than a closet appreciation for prog rock: "So bring on the piper of the jester's lonely heart/For even the happy man gets lonely in the dark" ("Peace, Pain & Regret"). Roelofs' lyrics are more anguished and propulsive, often punctuated with exclamation points: "Oh you need to be loved!/Oh you need all my love tonight!" ("Sweet Marie"); "Who stole my soul?/I may never know!" ("The Ghost of the River"); "Yeah my man, you better run for cover!/Oh you were wrong, the king fell from his tower!" ("The Death of the King").
Admittedly, on paper it all looks pretty hilarious, exclamation points hollering, the railing and rending of emotion, the mystical subjects scratching their heads as they move furtively in the night. But add the songwriting--the elusive melodies and the intense arrangements--to the mix and the album becomes a lively, textured, and at times surprisingly sweet collection of songs ("The Siren Sings" reminds all why the Anniversary has been compared to the Rentals, if only for a moment or two), possessed of rich instrumentation and skilled architecture.
Start to finish, Your Majesty explores the nature of change, with lyrics that poke at the past and worry about the future. Reluctance and inevitability are equally thematic, and there is freshness among all the vintage sounds because of the adolescent, anthemic tone within. "Crooked Crown" is steeped in the sentiment of someone who's poised to enter adulthood but would rather not just yet. "Husam Husam" showcases the death of innocence: "I saw the stone fill her eyes/I saw the shadow on the wall turn white/and she thought she did it right!" (Roelofs' composition, of course).
"Never Die Young" is almost hysterical in its wish to elude progress: "Taking off in the dawn/I'll never die young/and I can live to regret this." Berwanger and Roelofs' vocals volley against each other while keyboard player Adrianne Pope's omnipresent backing vocals nearly make her a third principal. She's the tuning factor in every song, the ethereal constant amid her male counterparts' plaintive trade-offs.
Pink Floyd and the Beatles will no doubt come to mind as references when listening to the "new and improved" Anniversary, as do new wave and garage bands, making a strong argument that this once unfocused (but always compelling) five-piece has quickly matured into a group of musicians who learned to edit their influences. It's easy to be excited about the things you find inspiring. And one can hardly be blamed for unguarded enthusiasm over a band that molds such effusiveness into a debut as sparkling and infectious as was Designing a Nervous Breakdown, only to rein it in and create an album as accomplished and refined as Her Majesty.
The fact of the band's progress inspires a whole other kind of enthusiasm--this time in the listener, who can look forward to yet another sea change without trepidation.