O’Brother — Endless Light
In an interview, O’Brother guitarist Jordan McGhin explained that the cover-art for Endless Light (2016) was created by
a very close friend of ours that passed away in 2014”
it means a lot to us for many reasons.
Although the image bears such a serious significance, McGhin added,
The underlying theme for Endless Light is to be a constant source of unending positivity, love and light to all humans that we have the amazing privilege of meeting each and every day on the road. Positive vibes, yo.
McGhin’s words suggest that Endless Light is an album of convalescence — like after the death of their close friend — and persistence in the face of obstacles — like the challenges of a contemporary band trying to earn enough money or build a large enough fan-base to continue performing and making music.
Endless Light also demonstrates a superlative blend of the experimental and accessible. The album was produced by Andy Hull, Robert McDowell (Manchester Orchestra, Bad Books) and Brad Fisher, and similarities to Manchester’s sound on Cope (2014) can be heard on Endless Light. However, O’Brother crafts a unique sound separate from musical peers as well as their sound on previous records. Endless Light combines the brooding edge of Garden Window (2011) and the protracted experimentation of Disillusion (2013) into yet another unique, ambitious and immersive release in the O’Brother catalog.
First, a note on the theme of positivity in Endless Light — it is everywhere. The opener “Slow Sin” begins,
You are the same but different
The victim of a slower sin.
Lead singer, Tanner Merritt, continues paradoxically, singing,
I would trade it all to change it
But you are acting like a brain dead infant
Waiting in line for a chemical to fix it
Acting like a sickle-cell child with a death wish
Yet the song still ends on a positive note, saying,
You are light, you are time, you are endless.
The third track, “Deconstruct,” continues the positive-trend by describing the tenacity of finding pleasure in hard work.
The song optimistically describes the end of the world as a form of creation analogous to the desire of repeatedly breaking and healing bones:
I wanna realign
My broken bones and repeat.
The fourth track, “Complicated End Times,” describes perseverance in the face of disparagement, saying,
You can try and measure what I do
By the sweat in my brow
But you don’t know a thing about me
You wanna snuff my fire out.
Next, the song “Burn” affirms,
I need to feed the wavering light
I need to think it’s right this time
Everyone I know eventually will see their way out.
After that, “Bloodlines” reassures,
Know I will be where you are
In truth, in life, in death, in light and dark
I will be with you.
The eponymous “Endless Light” consoles stoically that, although
you drift through night
I watched you crumble and be reborn.
Oh, you’re endless light, a burning arrow.
Following that, “Black Hole” offers the shred of hope that
There’s a fool’s hope
At the end of the tunnel
There’s an echo,
I’m trying to reach you.
The penultimate “I Am (Become Death)” boldly declares,
The world is ours
When we know who we are
We’re gonna rise up
And burst apart.
Lastly, “Realm of the Physical” asks for hope in the face of a travesty, saying,
I need a sign
In the face of travesty…
There is a time and place
for a miracle
I hope this is it
“Realm of the Physical” also demonstrates one of the longer tracks on Endless Light. It begins like a standard rock song, then sinks slowly into ambience. This is in contrast to the explosive ending of “I Am (Become Death),” erupting out of Merritt’s soft-singing of the last lyrics:
We’re gonna rise up
And burst apart
The energy of the hammering drums and engulfing guitars matches the cover art, too — like a placid universe collapsing.
A final example of a track showcasing their amalgamation of the accessible and experimental, the quiet and loud, is “Complicated End Times.” It opens with guitars groaning like a foghorn. Next, Merritt croons the first lyrics like Jeff Buckley before the song builds on itself, adding layer and layer of sound. Finally, around 2-minutes-50-seconds in, vocals and instrumentation spiral around the listener like they are standing in the eye of a storm. And — not to mention — the song is complete with a catchy chorus.
All in all, Endless Light is a record to reckon with fan-favorite Garden Window, effectively encapsulating the eclecticism of their sound. Rest assured, it is also a release for newcomers, with edgy-but-catchy tracks that would please any fan of Brand New, Manchester Orchestra, or Caspian. Lastly, Endless Light thematically captures the complexity of the human experience, while offering resolute optimism.
For me, at least, Endless Light is one of the best albums of 2016 so far.
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