The Afterglows choose hope over despair on ‘The Sound Of The Afterglows’
Tuesday mornings in February are among the most forgettable on the calendar. Dreary, cold (usually), gray, unexceptional. In step The Afterglows, mercifully breaking the monotony with a self-released, surprise record that lands among some of the best of the year.
The Afterglows are a collaboration between The Goodbye Party’s Michael Cantor and Radiator Hospital’s Sam Cook-Parrot, making them a Philly songwriter superduo of sorts. While both have released several albums of lo-fi, bedroom pop with their primary outfits over the last couple years this record, titled The Sound of The Afterglows, marks only their second project together as a duo. And yet, you have to imagine they have been far from strangers in the interim. The collaboration here is simply too seamless to be fleeting, as both songwriters find such comfort in the other’s skills, easily shedding the kind of split LP feel that frequently overshadows albums of its kind.
Think back, for a moment, to August 2016. No, really, try your best, I’ll give you a minute. Yeah, I am having a hard time myself. Six years might not seem like a long time, but these six, specifically, have been an eternity. “It wasn’t what I planned, I hit rocks instead of land” go the first lines of The Sound of The Afterglows’ opening track, the aptly titled “The Only Way Is Up”. Unpacking the six years since The Afterglows last came together to release music is a herculean effort I will not attempt here, but to say it was not what was planned is not a bad summation. Of course, as we know plans are fickle things, rarely seen through exactly as envisioned, no matter the circumstances. “Caught under a mile of burdens, I know there’s a way to turn around,” they sing later, preferring the hopeful over the despondent, a theme that runs through the record.
Just as important as hope, and perhaps inextricably linked for the songwriters behind The Afterglows, is collaboration. Bookending “The Only Way Is Up” are a pair of un-edited studio moments, a look inside of the partnership at the record’s core. This, more than anything, is both the palette and subject of The Sound of The Afterglows. Above all, the duo are magnificent vocal partners. Distinguishing which of their feather-light voices find their way to the songs’ hazy surface is nearly impossible, the gentle braid of harmonization striking an impenetrable balance. “Don’t want to be alone in a world so cruel” they sing together on the rainy-morning lilt of “Don’t Make Me Lonely”, expressing a recognizable sentiment in a way that quells the very fears it introduces.
Of course, these two bedroom-pop lifers are not slouches musically either. Cantor’s most recent work with The Goodbye Party found him taking a much more atmospheric, instrumental approach to his songwriter. You can see the footprints of that here, most notably on the back-half standout “The Nearest Window.” The record’s longest song by a significant margin, “The Nearest Window” starts with a lovely, intricate instrumental intro before the vocals enter the mix, falling into place rather overtaking, another in a host of equally essential ingredients. The use of strings, present here and throughout the record, is an important feature as any and one that pairs unsurprisingly well with the vocalists’ particular skills.
The Philadelphia music community never ceases to amaze, but the fact that such skilled songwriters and collaborators have something as consistently enjoyable as The Sound of The Afterglows up their sleeve to drop unsuspectingly on a Tuesday in February still feels like a minor miracle, one to be very thankful for.