by Sean Deveney (@autonomousnloud)
As massive trucks carrying precious cargo fly by on the highway, I always think about where they’re going and of the excitement of a road trip.
The first few seconds of the opening track to the Anna Altman album, Freightliner, give off the sensation that you are careening down a hill at a breakneck speed and are about to begin a new adventure. The guitar in “The Interview” is simple, repetitive, and trance inducing while the drums give the song wheels. It’s an incredible hook for the whole album and sets a significant tone of excitement.
“Never” changes this tone with a somber and reflective feel. “You’re only moving slower. It takes up your whole life. You can try to push it down, down.” Vocalist Lucia Arias has a unique way of singing where she draws out certain words. This can be heard especially when she sings “I’m not kiiiiidding.” Christian Billard’s drumming also must be mentioned as it consistently makes the songs come alive and forces my head to bob up and down in sheer appreciation.
This album somehow has the ability to sound thoughtful and reserved in a passionate and energetic manner. “American Gothic” quickly establishes a reflective mood with a quiet guitar riff but is soon given life with the accompaniment of the drums and vocals without even really increasing the volume very much.
The lyrics tie the song into the theme of the road: “Stepped out to the front yard. I see people in cars familiar. People I know that I’m not.” “They make conversation about people that they know.” These particular passages come across as an attempt to describe suburban or small-town life in a similar way to how Grant Wood attempts to capture it by focusing on one specific scene in the painting of the same name.
The title track is an instrumental that pleasantly meanders aimlessly through just a few chords and abruptly ends giving way to the closing song, “M.C. Ph.D.” At one point, Arias sings, “I’m haunted by history,” which helps to explain the name of the band. Anna Altman was a teenager who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 that highlighted the terrible working conditions of immigrants in the early twentieth century.
Learning the meaning behind the band’s name understandably shaped my experience of the album. My vision of trucks flying by on the highway was now complicated by my concern for the working conditions of the drivers, and “Never” suddenly appeared to be a plea for help from a desperate worker trapped in the capitalist system.
Arias and Billard team up to make intriguing music with genuine substance. Freightliner takes the listener on a journey that begins with great excitement and involves careful introspection, noteworthy observations, and even some important history. There are many songs on this album that stick in my head and refuse to leave.
The sign of a great band does not simply consist of an ability to make their listeners’ heads bob up and down. A truly great band stows something meaningful and worthwhile away inside their heads to take with them to their final destination.