The Backseat Lovers are aglow with angsty yet anthemic anticipation.
On their 2019 debut studio album When We Were Friends, the Utah-based quartet planted their roots firmly in a soundscape encompassing both indie rock and acoustic folk. Flourishing with youthful verve and a homespun resonance, the band swiftly ensnared listeners with tracks such as the exhilarating “Kilby Girl” and poignantly relatable “Pool House.”
Released Oct. 28, Waiting to Spill sees the Backseat Lovers teetering on the brink of a more experimental explosion. If When We Were Friends provided a reflective snapshot of fading teenage nostalgia, the band’s sophomore album crafts a time capsule overflowing with apprehension for the uncharted future. And whereas its predecessor, while vigorous, didn’t traverse particularly groundbreaking territory, the band’s latest work now strives to scale innovative artistic heights.
This purposeful ascent is most rewarding when the quartet tests the tensile strength of their compositions, a feat executed with finesse on record opener “Silhouette.” Across six minutes, The Backseat Lovers trace the ebb and flow of a murmuring guitar melody and frenzied percussive torrent, their musical exploration both fluid and deliberate. Although lead vocalist Joshua Harmon only sings for a fleeting half minute, tranquil background harmonizations abound, intensifying the track’s delicate dynamism.
Other songs, however, are derailed by genre-jumping detours and rambling instrumental intervals. The Backseat Lovers aim to expand their creative horizons with the plodding punk rock-adjacent “Slowing Down,” a track whose gritty yet one-dimensional guitar instrumentation rapidly loses momentum. Elsewhere, the vaguely jazz-inspired “Follow the Sound” fails to heed its own title, its production instead meandering without direction or purpose.
As the band attempts to further define the contours of their artistic identity, it is their intimate lyricism that leaves a longer-lasting impression rather than their endeavors to display multiple genres. Intertwining playful passion with strikingly unrestrained pain, their music could easily be featured on any number of iconic coming-of-age films.
Perhaps most notably, the earnest “Close Your Eyes” sees Harmon collect anxieties — of growing up, of being like his short-tempered father — under the surface of a strained bass guitar. In a moment of pure liberation, both his feelings and song’s instrumentals boil over into the searing internal realization: “I always knew I’d let you go/ Have to see you die to grow.” This track isn’t simply Harmon’s rebirth: It’s The Backseat Lovers’ reclamation of authenticity.
Nevertheless, amid these moments of eruptive honesty, an unfortunate number of tracks are simply swept into a current of mediocrity with too little resistance. Disregarding nuance, sonically distorted yet hollow songs such as “Growing/Dying” and “Know Your Name” overwhelm listeners with warped disorder.
Even songs that fight this stream of mere adequacy eventually become submerged in similar production issues. Tinged with yearning, “Morning in the Aves” is the record’s most prominent recall to its nostalgic predecessor. But as he wanders down memory lane, Harmon remains in a somewhat disappointing state of stasis — both in his hometown and in the track itself. Later, the wistful catharsis nearly provided in “Words I Used” is jarringly disrupted by overtly strained vocals, along with the song’s disjoined imbalance between rock and acoustic sensibilities.
Arguably the album’s greatest triumph is “Snowbank Blues,” a song that miraculously encapsulates autumnal melancholia bleeding into wintery sorrow. During the second verse, Harmon delivers one of his strongest lines to date: “Just because I’m smiling doesn’t mean that I am/ Smiling for myself,” he sings in an anguished near-scream before continuing with an aching facade of composure, “Take the stage and put the mask back on the shelf.” Devoid of overembellishment or reinvention, “Snowbank Blues” proves that The Backseat Lovers are at their best when returning to their stripped back roots.
Indeed, while The Backseat Lovers only maintain a steady simmer on the majority of Waiting to Spill, they do achieve an invigorating boiling point on more distilled tracks. On the the second full-length addition to their discography, the band comfortably slides into the passenger seat, but only time will tell when they’ll seize firm command of the steering wheel.