Monday, 23 March 2020

Album Review: Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs (by Emma Prew)

Spanish Love Songs’ third album, Brave Faces Everyone, has now been out for over a month. The dust has settled a little and I have listened to it enough times on repeat – plus heard a handful of the new songs live – to feel ready to give it a proper review.

2018’s Schmaltz was a brilliant second album and was, in many ways, more of a complete article than Spanish Love Songs’ debut album, Giant Sings The Blues. I love both albums dearly and, to be honest, couldn’t pick a favourite between them but there’s no denying than Schmaltz flows very well as an ‘album’ from start to finish and just generally felt more refined than their debut. Schmaltz is the album that made the band a lot more well known – particularly over here in the UK – and so, in that respect, Brave Faces Everyone had quite a challenge on its hands in following on from where Schmaltz left off.

Thankfully, from my very first listen through on the album’s release day, I had no doubts regarding the fact that Spanish Love Songs had done it again with Brave Faces Everyone. I’ve heard a lot of people saying already that this is likely to be their album of the year, I’m not going to say that… yet, but it’s certainly my favourite as of now. And this is why…

As we hit play on track number one, Routine Pain, a gentle hum of Meredith’s synths welcome us to Brave Faces Everyone before Dylan utters the unforgettable line ‘On any given day, I’m a 6 of 10’ (a poignant nod to Scott Hutchison). As Dylan sings of his anxieties, the first verse builds slowly both in volume and pace before we reach a hugely cathartic chorus – ‘So let me ruin my guts tonight.’ It immediately has me wanting to throw my fist in the air and sing along. When the pace slows back down again towards the end of the song, we are allowed a moment to breathe before being thrust into the final bridge. I can confirm that yelling along to ‘Have you ever felt lower than everyone else?, I’m feeling lower than anyone else. If everything’s lower than everything else, I want to see how much lower we can go.’ is just as exhilarating as anything from Giant or Schmaltz. What an album opener! And what’s better than a killer album opener? A killer album opener that perfectly blends into the second track – thanks to more of those fantastic synths. Self-Destruction (As A Sensible Career Choice) isn’t at all stripped back with some lovely huge-sounding fuzzy guitars from the outset. It’s a super catchy, head-nodder of a tune that worms its way into your head before you’ve properly considered what the song is about. The song is about how troubled and helpless you can feel as a 30-something, between your own personal problems such as paying the bills and the fact that the world is quite literally on fire. A relatable song topic if ever there was one. There’s a strange amount of comfort to be found in the chorus – ‘“It won’t be this bleak forever." Yeah right. I hope you’re right. Have you seen me lately?’ 

Unsurprisingly, the themes that Spanish Love Songs broached on the first two songs are ever present in the third track. Generation Loss features a wonderfully melodic riff to easily rival the likes of The Menzingers and the track simply oozes nostalgic vibes, however it’s pretty hard-hitting lyrically. The song talks of a battle with depression and the grief that comes if someone close to you loses that battle. It makes me feel hugely emotional just reading the lyrics and trying to digest exactly what Generation Loss is about but I’m thankful that this song exists as I know so many people will find comfort in it. Particularly with another chorus that is just begging you to scream along – ‘We’re just so fucking tired, Of explaining ourselves. We throw a pill down our throats, Or ourselves into in the ocean. ’Cause half our friends are dead. The other half are depressed. In this budget rate life, The borderline’s looking thin.’ Things take a slight turn for the next song, Kick. This song was released as the lead single from Brave Faces Everyone (assuming you don’t count Losers, as that was initially released almost a year before the rest of the album) and it’s easy to see why. Kick has a big anthemic instrumental opening that immediately grabs your attention and hooks you in even before Dylan begins to tell the tale of a person struggling with drug addiction. It’s a pretty heavy going subject – like much of the band’s back catalogue – but contrasts wonderfully with the melody. I particularly enjoyed the nod to the album’s title in one line of the third verse – ‘Pop your prescription and you put on a brave face.’ Songwriting perfection.

Beach Front Property sees Spanish Love Songs slow the pace down somewhat with a much more restrained opening verse than anything we’ve heard so far on Brave Faces Everyone. The rhythm section shines through here however while a gentle guitar melody echoes in the background and, later on in the track, some subtle piano playing. As you might expect from the band, the volume does increase in the chorus but it’s quite abrupt and direct – ‘If every city is the same, Doom and gloom under a different name, Maybe we should find our home in one.’. Beach Front Property is about feeling like no matter where you choose to live there are always going to be problems with the place and you’re not necessarily going to be happier somewhere new – the grass isn’t always greener. It’s a pretty pessimistic outlook but this is Spanish Love Songs after all! Next up is a song that I am, and I’m sure you are too, well acquainted with – Losers. Originally released as a 7” single last Spring, I was a little surprised when I heard that the track would be appearing on Brave Faces Everyone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing song and I love it but I wasn’t sure how it would sit alongside an album of new material (then again, Buffalo Buffalo and Boy Considers His Haircut were released on an EP a while before Schmaltz as well, and the latter is one of my very favourite SLS songs). Thankfully Losers works very, very well in the context of the album and does a fine job of opening the second half. It’s fast-paced and so damn catchy that it injects a new lease of life into side B. It’s unlikely that another chorus on this album will get as big a live audience singalong as this one – ‘And my bleak mind, Says it's cheaper just to die, The prick inside my head’s, Laid off and daring me to try, My bleak mind says this is all you got, Hoping all this time, but all you'll find is, It gets harder, doesn't it?’

The first time I listened to Brave Faces Everyone (on Spotify, since I hadn’t received my vinyl copy/download code at the time), I thought I’d suddenly stopped listening to Spanish Love Songs after Losers and was listening to someone else. That is how much the opening of Optimism (As A Radical Life Choice) doesn’t sound like anything the band have done before. I must stress that this is not at all a bad thing, it peaked my interest and had me eagerly listening to see how the song would progress and, now, honestly this is probably my favourite song on the album. It takes us on an incredible journey throughout its four and half minute duration and is filled with ups and downs and twists and turns. The overarching theme of the song is basically about feeling like the end of the world is nigh, both due to your own personal anxieties and the climate crisis – and now, it takes on a whole new meaning thanks to COVID-19. I could quote so many of the lyrics in this song – it’s all so fucking good – but the bridge, in particular, is outstanding. ‘Because the ocean's gonna rise, The river's finally gonna overflow and leave us stranded, Try to make it to the other side, But there's a crack in my lifeboat, And I'm sinking, well I'm sinking, Won't you sink with me.’ If I was skeptical about Losers being on Brave Faces Everyone then you can bet that I was just as skeptical about song called Losers, Pt. 2 also being included. But, oh my, was I wrong to dismiss it! This song is so much more than just the second part of Losers – it’s a goddamn banger in its own right, perhaps even more so than Part 1. Losers, Pt. 2 opens with a distinct bass line, giving bassist Trevor time to shine, alongside a steady drum beat. When the guitars and keys do come in, they’re a big as you’d expect from track that I’ve already referred to as a ‘banger’. Unsurprisingly, it’s the chorus where the song really comes to life and Dylan’s lyrics really hit home – ‘Don’t you know you were born to die poor man? Don’t you know that you’re gonna do yourself in? And you’ll always wake up tired, Because there’s nowhere we go from here.’. The song is, of course, about just trying to get by in life – working just to live, or survive, and doing whatever you can to avoid succumbing to the obstacles life throws at you.

The penultimate song on Brave Faces Everyone is Dolores. Probably the most brutally emotional song on the record – and that’s saying something – Dolores is a slow burner of a song that is somewhat stripped back compared to the previous songs on the album. Its lyrics are structured significantly differently to the other songs as well. Here Dylan tells a story of someone working in an emergency room and putting every bit of their energy into trying to save someone’s life – perhaps, and I could be wrong, after a shooting (because America seems to have a few too many gun-related tragedies). It’s as heart-wrenching as it is moving and the fact that the song doesn’t have that big singalong chorus, catchy riffs or impactful bridge section doesn’t matter one bit. It’s still a first-class song, especially the way it builds and builds with the song’s conclusion being the line ‘They’re praying for you, you, for you.’ repeated over and over before fading out. Brave Faces Everyone started in a big way but will it end in a big way? Definitely, there’s certainly no doubt about that! I don’t think there could possibly be a better way to conclude the album than with Brave Faces, Everyone – note the inclusion of the comma on this song title, as opposed to the album’s title. You can tell that Spanish Love Songs are on a mission to close this album in style from the first few bars of the track, seemingly putting everything they’ve got left into this song. Brave Faces, Everyone reflects on everything that has been said and done on the album, including literally echoing lyrics we recognise from earlier on in the album plus a few nods back to Schmaltz as well. They’re not simply recycling old lines though, it’s delivered in such a way that just works. It ties up the album as a whole and the package is completed with a poignant outro. ‘I’m sick of yelling at strangers, Don’t want to do this forever, And when it all burns down, Will you carry me over? We don't have to fix everything at once, We were never broken, Life's just very long, Brave faces, everyone.’ 

This is the first time I’ve actually reviewed a whole Spanish Love Songs album and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading every word on my lyric sheet over and over as well as listening carefully for every single note in order to pour as much love into this review as I possibly can. The album and the band deserve it. There are not many artists that I’d put quite this level of passion into reviewing but Spanish Love Songs are such a special band to me. At the start of this review, I stated that I would struggle to pick a favourite album between Schmaltz and Giant Sings The Blues. Well, I can honestly say that I feel much the same about Brave Faces Everyone – and that surprises me, I didn’t think Spanish Love Songs would be able to top Schmaltz. You’ll have to ask me again in six months time if I think they’ve actually ‘topped’ it but I have no doubt that they’ve produced something equally as outstanding.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and listen to the album again. It feels even more fitting with how things are at the moment – we need albums and bands like Spanish Love Songs more than ever.

If you read this far, thank you – I know this is longer than the average album review!

You can stream and download Brave Faces Everyone here and like Spanish Love Songs on Facebook here.

This review was written by Emma Prew.

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