by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
The new year is just two months old and already Exploding in Sound have blessed our ears with sonic salvation by releasing Here Comes Washer and now with Personal Life, the new album from Two Inch Astronaut, the label looks to sanctify our born again ears. The Maryland trio have released their best album to date and already make a case that anything released after might just be fighting for second place.
As you know, Maryland is part of the larger Washington, D.C. area and so by law I’m now required to mention things like Dischord Records and how Two Inch Astronaut relate to the D.C. music scene. This time there is a direct connection as the album is produced by J. Robbins who we all should know from Jawbox and as a result the album sounds great. It’s a full sounding record, each part clear and distinct. The band sound comfortable and at ease. The loud parts justified, the quiet parts confident. The bass has never sounded better. There’s even some cello which recalls Robbins’ later band Office of Future Plans. The album is also sequenced really well. It’s an album you can listen to front to back, or even back to front and it still sounds like a well put together set. While the album might be produced by a scene veteran, this is fully a Two Inch Astronaut album. The evolution started with Bad Brother, and advanced on Foulbrood, reaches refinement on Personal Life.
Personal Life feels like an apt title, both for the band and the listener. "At Risk Student" with its frustrations about the education system and its focus on testing, "Topper Shutt" being named after a local weatherman, and even "Andy’s Progress Report" which is sung by bassist Andy Chervenak all lend authenticity. Real names are used, details sound true to life. Songs like "A Happy Song," "Good Behavior," and "Woodstock ’99" touch on universal themes like the responsibility that comes with growing older, fractured relationships, and scenes dying out. Anger is also represented in songs like "Sexual Prince of the Universe" and "Personal Life". These are songs you can play on the way home from a frustrating day at work, after an argument with a loved one, during those late nights when the big questions won’t leave you alone and all your plans and dreams feel defeated, taken out back into the alley and shot.
There are a lot of little moments on the album that stick with you. Lines like “there are things you hate you’ll do for the rest of your life” in "A Happy Song," or “in my fist on the way to the liquor store I felt my 20s crumbling” from the title track resonate on a personal level. Matt Gatwood’s cello on "Good Companion" turns what could be a little aside into something vital when a minute into the song a little three note run drives home the emotion. Sam Rosenberg’s guitar part a 1:45 into "Woodstock ’99" that reminds one of a track from the first Q and Not U record (oops, another Dischord reference). The growl and swell of the bass 15 seconds in to "Submission". The way in which the words “I saw the catalogue and it’s giving me the creeps, but what harm could anybody do to me” are sung at the end of "Andy’s Progress Report". Vocals pushed to their edge that leave you with goosebumps, meaning driven from the way it’s sung more than what is sung. Everything about "Topper Shutt," which might be the best showcase of everything that Two Inch Astronaut does.
Personal Life is an album that finds Two Inch Astronaut in peak condition. Each part from the notes, to the songs, to the sound make for a full and engaging listen. It’s an album you’ll find has been on repeat and you never noticed nor cared that you just listened. It’s their strongest work to date and leaves you already wondering with awe at what they’ll come up with next. Knowing them, you can probably already get a sample of what that might sound like when they come to town.