Monday, 5 November 2018

Album Review: LP5000 by Restorations (by Richard Mair)

Personally, the music I always end up with the strongest connections to is the type that challenges me. Either through lyrics that connect on an emotional level (typically social commentary / storytelling / political types), or where the music itself through its composition and delivery creates a unique identity; where it’s clearly integral to the band and their persona. Like some of my all time favourites Hot Water Music, The Gaslight Anthem and The Hold Steady, Restorations hold an enviable position of being able to achieve both. The lyrics rely on the music and the music needs the lyrics; together they are much greater than the sum of their parts but separately they’d feel lost or incomplete.

Coming out of the recent Philadelphia punk explosion, Restorations might hold some of the same DNA as bands such as The Menzingers, The Holy Mess or Luther but their personification of this sound is very much a melting pot of old school classic rock (think Led Zeppelin), grunge (Pearl Jam) and post hardcore (Sparta) and somehow giving this a spin that makes the sound all their own. No one sounds quite like Restorations and Restorations in turn don’t attempt to sound like anyone else.

Continuing the trend of utilitarian names for albums and songs, LP5000 is the perfect name for the 7 song collection that by rights should be called simply LP4. The reason for the rather knowing change becomes apparent through the album and its political undertones. This is an album showing that nothing changes (politically speaking). Despite the time between LP3 and now the world continues to change at pace yet some things remain untouched and in particular unclean; Restorations know this and LP5000 is their way of demonstrating this.

That’s not to say it has a familiar feel to it. LP5000 is clearly a Restorations release, but it’s somewhat pegged back; toned down if you will, lighter perhaps in places. The nearest comparison I can draw is the Canadian alt-country stylings of say Wintersleep or the Rural Alberta Advantage; the quality of the musicianship of these two bands is certainly paralleled here, as is the ambiance they create. Take the early RAA releases which had a cold Canadian winter vibe to them or Welcome to the Night Sky (Wintersleep) with its use of samples underpinning the loud guitars and creating depth and space in the songs. Restorations go far beyond “punk” and in doing so are able to operate in an area few bands can safely occupy without accusations of selling out or losing their audience.

Opening track “St.” starts with an atmospheric ambient noise filled in by a rolling guitar lick before John Louden’s gruff half sung half spoken vocals punctuate proceedings. It’s a unique delivery that instantly reminds me of my favourite frontman – Craig Finn of the Hold Steady. This is everyman rock 'n' roll and Louden sounds authentic and earthy; tangible in fact whilst the music occupies an ethereal plane. The mantra “I’ll tell you what you already know” introduces the album. As alluded to despite the fact that this album, by its name, should exist at a much later time in their catalogue is suggesting nothing changes. All the while the music flows driven by some excellent guitar work, thick bass lines and rhythmic drumming, before clever use of squeaky guitars and a pause to explode the final third; helping create a real feeling of epicness to the opener.

Second song “Nonbeliver” is perhaps the most political song on the album. You can’t help but imagine veiled threats to a certain world leader. Lines such as “... refresh the news and repeat it again” reinforce this lack of progress in the world over the last few years. Again the repetitive nature of the music unfurls in a typical rhythm through the first verse, before a slight upbeat tempo change kicks in for the chorus. As with a lot of Restorations finer moments where they create moments of quiet-loud transition they excel, “Nonbeliver” showcases this ability perfectly.

“Remains “is a very different song to its two predecessors. First of all I can’t help but feel the overtly melodic tune sounds like a Britpop song from say Sleeper or Ash. It’s a nice little tune and as a straight up pop song works well to balance what could be quite a heavy and dark opening of the album. Again where it excels is where Louden releases the reigns and stretches his range over the music. Again a great way to create light and shade in the music.

The midpoint of the album is “Melt”, a slow, ballad where the samples and keys do much of the work for the first 90 seconds with Louden’s storytelling carrying the song. The final third sees the song kick it up a gear; with a typical Restorations chant-like repetitive lyrical flurry. It’s a quiet song, again built on a number of layers while Louden’s lyrics conjure ongoing frustrations with the world at large. “We’ll be here after he’s gone” and “I don’t want to hear that name again” suggesting an acceptance of the status quo but also that knowing change will happen. It’s again a subtle nod to world events but not necessarily the central theme of the song. Instead the focus, and indeed the building refrain, suggest a desire to remain positive in the face of such uncertainty.

The first single teased by the band for LP5000 was “The Red Door” and it’s also the most typical punk rock song on the album. The incessant drumming a real driving force whilst the big rock guitars provide the melody. Anyone familiar with their previous work will easily warm to The Red Door, it’s very similar to Separate Songs albeit without the majestic cacophony that it builds to. Still The Red Door has an epic chorus that yearns to be sung back to the band; much like the penultimate track “Caretaker”, which I must admit is possibly the high point on an album of them.

It’s a slow burner. Louden’s storytelling ability of bringing to life the everyday mundane (sitting in the car, looking in the rear view mirror, not knowing the neighbours’ names) is beautiful. The real release of energy within the album coming with the guitar solo. It’s quite simply stunning and one of the finest instrumental moments you’ll hear all year.

The closing track, “Eye”, is a downbeat epic. Again the mundane takes precedent in the lyrics but at the same time references back to glancing at phones and “hoping he dies” reinforces the feeling that, despite the world’s situation, life still goes on. It’s a synth and key driven song somewhat different in tone to the songs that came before it. It’s at the 2:30 mark that the song explodes with heavy drums and a discordant alarm-esque electronic tune, carrying the song to its conclusion. Coming back to Wintersleep, it’s a song that reminds me of their often overlooked epic “Baltic”. Yes it’s quite a sombre song, cold and distant but it actually feels like the right way to close the album.

One thing must be acknowledged throughout the album (as with everything else they’ve committed to record) is the production levels, which are truly stunning. There are so many layers and depths to each song that it’s only on repeated listens you truly appreciate the level of craft on show. Take The Red Door, within the first verse some distant whoa-whoas can be heard in the background. I must have listened to the album 10 times before I heard this. Repeated listening is essential to really appreciate how skilled they truly are at creating the sound that is so unlike anything else. So where does LP5000 sit in the grand scheme of things? LP2 is a true landmark album, genuinely I can’t think of a sophomore album that exceeded all expectations in such a manner. It’s an absolutely stellar album that they will always be measured against. Its follow up LP3 was sadly less successful; despite showing that they had the ability to write killer pop songs (Separate Songs), it sometimes felt too safe and much of it merged despite repeated listens. LP5000 then is a great return from Restorations. It’s different but unmistakable, bold yet refrained, quiet and loud. It’s the best juxtapositions you can imagine and worth investing time to truly appreciate!

Stream and download LP5000 here:

Like Restorations here:

This review was written by Richard Mair.

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