by Matthew Sigur (@MatthewSigur)
Culled from the scrapyard of Chicago bands that called it quits, Ethers is a quartet that nails the ragged glory of rock ’n’ roll on its self-titled debut. In a musical age dominated by skittering hi-hats and personality crises, Ethers writes tributes to the headphone-wearing geeks who find solace in simple anthems.
A self-described “bad time band,” Ethers sets the stage for a melancholic night on the town with the lead-off track, “Empty Hours.” Alongside a rambling bass line, guitarist/vocalist Bo Hansen puts his restless spirit on display. “What do I do with these empty hours,” Hansen sings, before answering himself in the chorus, “Tonight, I’m staring into the unknown. Learning how to let it go.” When you have lyrics that clear, nothing else needs to be sung.
In three lines, Hansen captures what it’s like to be a romantic audiophile — the type of person who wanted to make some big gesture like John Cusack in “Say Anything,” but didn’t have the guts. This type is also super aware that every Cusack character is a bit of an asshole, and by default, would have played something a lot cooler than Peter Gabriel. Something so particularly un-Hollywood, probably something like “Empty Hours.”
Ethers lives in that alt-rock land next to Quasi, Wolf Parade, The Jam, and Elvis Costello’s first three records. There, the guitar lines are all treble and sparkle, squawk and spike on songs like “Nature’s Revenge” and “Rip Off.” Meanwhile, Mary McKane’s distorted organ lines buzz in and out, driving songs like “Running Through the Night” and the absolute destroyer of “CBD.” The latter is begging for a fast-motion collage video of the bandmates running through the city, shot with a fish-eye lens.
Drummer Matthew Rolin is steady but not showy, giving most of the rhythm floor to bassist Russ Calderwood. Whatever space is left is where Hansen moans, buried under the weight of the night before and howling on songs like “Patient Life.” There, he’s taking it all “as it comes, waiting for no one.”
By the end of the album, the band is right back where it started on the low-key tumble of “Something.” In the nighttime in a low spot, and “something takes me over,” Hansen and McKane sing, a calm refrain as hopeful as it is dragged down.
Such simplicity is bound to be overlooked and underrated, but Ethers isn’t the type of band to wallow in semantics. As rock music and its critics continue to cycle through nostalgia, here I am, sighing, “They can have it.” I’m too busy sinking into my headphones and staring into the audio to deal with anything else.