by Glennon F. Curran
Words like “the people” and “community” often ring hollow in the modern world. They are vestiges of a bygone era when egalitarian radicals invoked broad categories of humanity during fiery exhortations on street corners and shop floors. The alleged failure of utopian projects sucked the life from these words. Their bloodless remains were left to mock subsequent generations that unwittingly turned further inward as traditional community and support structures crumbled around them. New Orleans based All People dedicate themselves to breathing life back into collective notions, and in their efforts to do so they lead by example.
When All People’s Greg Rodrigue and Daniel Ray are not touring the country, they are running Community Records; a label with an overt ethos of spreading musical culture for its own sake on fair and ethical terms. Taken together, All People and Community Records are purposeful projects enacted in furtherance of building a cultural exchange where people can create, produce, and share music. All People’s third full length All People listens like the spiritual cornerstone of this vision, reminding people to step outside of themselves for periodic renewal. Experiencing All People’s music is a necessary element in understanding what Community is about, because it is their love of music that sustains and drives them. You can hear that in “S/T,” and it sounds both refreshing and genuine.
Musically, “S/T” feels nostalgic without committing to any one genre. Twinkly keyboards and Josh Campbell's post-punk guitars walk the line between beautiful and dissonant. All of this is set over a driving rhythm section comprised of thick bass and big thumping drums from Robert Landry. Their sound recalls the refreshing aspects of 80s synth, as well as the more intelligent parts of 90s post-punk. Vocals wobble between Morrissey-like crooning and variants of pop punk. From time to time, the big trombone melodies of Daniel Ray swoop in to carry the song from climax to ending.
Lyrically, “S/T” evolves over the course of sides A and B. Each side has a distinctive arch, and Side B provides resolve to the individualized neuroses explored on Side A. This quality gives the listener a reason to experience and own the album on vinyl— something that is not true of most records. Turning the record over is almost metaphorical given the change in tone that the album takes on Side B.
Side A kicks it off with a string of songs about psychological struggle and a sense of powerlessness. It closes with the track “Moon Steps,” which recounts a bit of fatherly advice and reminds the listener to “stop and look around.” This sets up the transition to the more optimistic Side B. After dragging the listener through the solipsistic mud, Side A ends by driving home the point that a life not lived in the moment is a life not lived at all.
Side B delivers on this idea. It is lightweight, and deals with more ambiguous subject matter. It begins with “Start Again,” a song that is literally about beginning anew. It proceeds to “Balloon,” a song about love that focuses on the experience, and not the aftermath. It is worth noting that the breakdown of "Balloon"—with its fuzzy guitars, soaring trumpet, and lyrical hook (“mother mary on the cross”)—demonstrates All People at their very best. Finally, they take it home with the twinkly and meandering instrumental “New Rain,” and end it with an almost baptismal metaphor about the cleansing waters of a cold stream on “Of You.” When it’s over, the listener feels clear headed and optimistic. Refreshed and renewed.
All in all, “S/T” is a meaningful listen. It challenges us to break free from our cycles of solipsistic psychological BS by demonstrating that life only has value if it is lived and experienced with others. This advice is coming from a group that dedicates itself to such a vision. While the advice itself is old, any album made in pursuit of such truths will always be refreshingly new. So be it with “S/T.”