Sometimes I Just Don’t Know (Lilystar/Rock Indiana)
Here’s a hardly original thought: life is a peculiar, unreasonable thing to explain. Why is it that so often when life is at its shittiest that some of the most telling, most satisfying work is created? Sometimes with an energy that feels like if not exactly optimism then at least unexpected buoyancy. Come on, that’s just weird right?
Bryan Estepa’s sixth album came out of serious personal upheaval and sadness, the kind that smacks you around, hard, and makes day to day decisions, let alone major efforts, impossible to focus on. “We trip over each other like we’re strangers from a foreign place.”
Scattered through this album are hurt and confusion, a reaching for answers, an eye to a future only starting to come into focus, barely hidden cries of “why?” and “how?”, acceptance and self-awareness. And messiness.
Perversely, the result is the best work he’s ever done: concentrated in its writing, playing, sound and intent, and not just satisfying, but lasting.
One of the reasons is because it all feels true. Whether it’s the strain of anger (in the chopped guitar as much as the vocals) of Measure Of A Man, or the bruised resignation of Drawn Like Magnets, the bitterness of Like The Cruel, or the need of Anything And Everything, the emotions are never far from the surface of these songs.
That truth elevates songs which work is in the realm of guitar pop, rock with classicist leanings, soulful country even, where in some ways nothing is new. If you’ve heard your Tom Pettys and Jayhawks, Ice Cream Hands and Richard Claptons – I’d even go some LRB here and there on this record, and no shame in that at all – you’ll recognise the moves.
Except of course that there’s always ways to make the forms bend enough to have us look again.
I’m Not Ready For This, the opening track and first single, has Estepa and drummer Russell Crawford bringing oohs and la-la-las as both salve and temptation while the Daves Hatt (guitar) and Keys (bass), and Brian Couch on piano, offer chime and charge, and a touch of the barroom.
In Like The Cruel, after the charge of a rich and shimmering chorus there’s a languid, (dare I say yacht rock?) guitar solo which shifts you for a third time within the first 100 seconds. But Drawn Like Magnets works by keeping its changes to a minimum, letting the feeling build, and Valleys brings a fine balance between meatiness and gentleness before the solo adds some proper slow burn over Danny Federici-style organ.
You’d rather Estepa hadn’t had to go through the shit to get here, but Sometimes I Just Don’t Know shows there was something good, and at times very good, that came from it. And that’s a result to live with.