Welcome to The Underground (or Notes from the Underground if you’re a Dostoyevsky nerd), a weekly segment in which I examine the very best in unsigned, undiscovered and underground music. It’s my goal to highlight and hopefully promote talented artists who have yet to receive the attention they deserve. If you know (or are!) a band or artist you think should be featured on The Underground, please hit me up on Twitter @AnOrangeFellow, or alternatively, on The Official Underground Blog.
I was having a somewhat tricky time categorising Syracuse. You see, it’s a record that doesn’t really maintain a consistent style throughout – it fluctuates between true-blue acoustic singer-songwriter and fast, and ever-so-slightly aggressive spoken word, with strange electronic undertones bubbling up on some tracks before disappearing so quickly that by the next it felt as if they couldn’t have ever been there. Not on this album. How could it work?
I mean, what’s confusing it that it does. Syracuse is an album that, before anything else, feels totally whole. Each song not only flows into the next, but the different styles feel appropriately paced and even complimentary. The record goes from summoning the strength and audacity exhibited by John Darnielle on Heretic Pride one moment to emulating the softer, sweeter, rhythmic moments of Anais Mitchell’s Young Man in America the next. When trying to wrap my brain around just how it all clicked so well, I read up a little on the writing process behind Syracuse, and suddenly, it all made sense.
Kyle Adem states under the description for Syracuse that the album was written “a complete emotional breakdown that ate away at me psychologically for a period that cannot be qualified by any measure of time”.
Syracuse is an album about pain. That’s why it works. It comes through on each song, even the more upbeat ones. Whether it be the overt expressions of it in “St. James Ukrainian Church”, the expression of the confusion it brings on in “I Am Not” or even just as something to be surpassed in “Learning to Drive Again”. You can feel the remnants of something overpowering and shocking throughout Syracuse, and the songs in that way tell a very clear narrative. While the events are never comfortably clear-cut on the album, the songs themselves perfectly encapsulate the journey of a wounded man trying to put himself back together. It’s an album about treating song-writing as therapy; about trying to save oneself through your own expression and getting lost along the way.
Syracuse knows how to strain the saxophone at just the right time, it knows when to break into fast-spoken streams of consciousness and it knows how to tie a bow on the whole experience with “Sunset Alone”. Emotionally involving and always honest, Syracuse makes for a deeply engaging listen.