Grand entrances don’t get much better than “Union Hall,” the opening track from Foreign Born’s debut, On the Wing Now. Here’s what I mean: The drum roll that ushers in the song quickly bleeds into monastery-style chanting, with big, echoed handclaps for percussion — going double-time every couple of measures and purposely throwing off lead singer Matt Popieluch’s vocals — with the ringing brightness of what is possibly a mandolin filling the empty spaces. Then, at about the halfway mark, the guitars crank in for the chorus-y breakdown, multiplying and crowding the track as Poplieluch’s words, now desperate and buried, resonate louder than ever.
That’s the San Francisco-and-L.A.-based band at its most theatrical. But emotions run high throughout On the Wing Now, as if all the dramatic sounds — Lewis Pesacov’s reverb-drenched guitars, Garrett Ray’s hopping drums and cymbal swells, Ariel Rechtshaid’s tight bass lines — have fallen under the spell of Popieluch’s haunting, Jesus & Mary Chain-influenced delivery. Foreign Born’s energy becomes its own instrument; each song lifts with the delight of something unplanned and yet perfectly right, often within a matter of seconds. The brief crescendo of acoustic guitar, electric guitar and pulsing percussion that begins “Letter of Inclusion,” for example, aches and twists into something so striking, so beautiful, that the next three minutes have a hard time recovering from it.
Other songs — “The Nights Tall” and “Holy Splinter,” in particular — sprawl out, taking those hanging guitar notes and stretching them into miles of yearning and impossible pain, or joy, or both. Foreign Born rides this line a lot; it’s never quite clear how the band members feel about something — if they’re still stinging from some awful injustice or if they’ve moved on enough to write a song about it — and that’s exactly what makes On the Wing Now so exciting and vital. It’s urgent and soaring but it’s also great catharsis. On “Keep It All Inside,” waves of guitar and drums seem to wash away those bottled-up feelings Popieluch can’t contain any longer. By the closing track, “Never Wrong,” where the singer does a stunning Jim Reid impersonation, there’s nothing left to give. Everything’s been purged and sorted. There really is no better way to say goodbye.