Aw, the '90s. What would I do without your music??? Living in Oklahoma all my life, there was always this sense of calm that came from being amongst the prairies and not within the confines of a concrete jungle. For me, the music of the Midwest brings to mind these memories from long ago and the sometimes simpleness that being a child gave to me. But, of course, there's the inner feelings that spring about and make me remember those hard times I've been through. And for some people, music is what triggers said emotions.
Boys Life was such a band. They often remind me of those old memories and it's a give-and-take kind of relationship. Going through their discography, I always end up loving their second full-length album, 1996's Departures and Landfalls, the most. This is an album of restless intensity and emotional outpour. Of all eight tracks, there is not a dud amongst them. From the twinkly opening song, "Fire Engine Red," to the final bits of album closer "Painted Smiles," Boys Life have crafted a finely tuned Midwest time capsule that hits the mark every time.
When first listening to this album, you will notice the lo-fi quality production. I recall reading complaints from people on this issue, but after countless times jamming this collection of songs, I can honestly say it adds to the atmosphere. From the emo-inspired cover art work featuring an open, dawn-filled landscape, to the almost old-fashioned AM radio vocals, you get a sense of "found" quality. Like this album was hidden amongst old junk in your grandparents' basement, and once you begin to listen to it, it takes you on a history lesson from the past. Take album highlight, "Radio Towers." The song begins with the tuning of radio dials, and then slowly but surely the instrumentals softly begin to build up. There is this ambiance that surrounds the listener and engulfs them in static. It brings to mind Wilco's best album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and maybe the debut album by the Strokes, Is This It.
Another thing to mention is lead singer Brandon Butler. He’s become one of my favorite vocalists from the '90s emo movement, what with his yelp and forced screams. The only people I can closely compare him to would be Bob Nanna from Braid and Mike Kinsella during his American Football days.
With instrumentation that resembles the best of what the scene had to offer and lyrics expressing landscapes and insecurity, Departures and Landfalls is one of the best emo albums ever made. If you happen to dig bands like the Kossabone Red, Braid, the Promise Ring, Broken Hearts Are Blue and Christie Front Drive, this should suffice. Remember that music isn't always this good...