Barely Civil would be hard-pressed to find a more aptly titled moniker for their sophomore record as they explore the quest of discovering what it means to let go of the parts of themselves that no longer fit and move forward in this crazy thing called life. I’ll Figure This Out in many ways is an investigation into what it means to belong to something bigger than yourself, and finding ways to cope with both the good and bad that comes up. The album was produced by Chris Teti (TWIABP, Fiddlehead), and he does a masterful job of getting the best out of the band. The record’s highs seem bigger and brighter, whereas the lows of the LP hit home harder and have a lasting impact on the listener. The Wisconsin-based band have created a record that comes at a perfect time, as it will likely carry us through the uncertain fall and winter seasons as we say goodbye to this abysmal year.
Vocalist/guitarist Connor Erickson shows his depth and growth as a songwriter on this album by making sure all of the pieces to the puzzle connect into each of the affectionately crafted songs found here. He surely doesn’t make it seem like he has all of the answers to life’s pressing questions, but he takes each challenge that comes into his path with surefire focus and dignity. From the cautious opening notes of “…For Now” that has layered vocals over a semi-tribal drum beat, Erickson sings, “I think there’s a mistake / I can’t keep my mouth shut / I still feel my bones break” it seems as if Barely Civil are exploring the intricacies of relationships and how they can evolve or disintegrate over time. The song quickly bleeds away into one of the better tracks found in the early stages of the LP in “Bottom of the Lake.” Erickson’s vocal delivery is eerily reminiscent of the style of American Football’s Mike Kinsella, and the comparisons between the two emo bands continue to be noticed in several ways. The band of guitarist Alex Larsen, bassist Ben Forst, and drummer Isaac Marquardt fully complement the vocals of Erickson, and each member has left their unique fingerprints over this record.
One of the first songs released from the album, “North Newhall,” remains one of my favorites from I’ll Figure This Out as it summarizes the best parts of this band. From the affectionately crafted lyrics to the layered guitar parts, everything clicks along with professional ease. The quick starts and stops of the band’s rhythm section never detract away from the message of the song that’s about seeing your way out of a bad situation. Erickson explains, “I’m sorry, when’s a good time to kick myself out? / ‘Cause I’ve been eating all your food / And I’ve been stealing all your time / And if I’m being quite honest, I don’t remember what is mine.” He is trying to figure out where it all went wrong, and it comes across quite passionately in his delivery.
“Box For My Organs” is one of the more emo-ready song titles to be released this decade, and the material doesn’t disappoint. From the Jimmy Eat World-esque charging guitar parts in the beginning to the passionate chorus of “I lost hope / In the backseat of the first car that I drove / To the places I love, and where I swore I’d never see,” the band sure to be getting the hang of this whole indie-emo band thing. In just two short albums time, they have nearly mastered the emo staple elements of the soft/loud dynamic that is ever-present in this genre, and have improved upon everything they tinkered within their debut.
“The Worst Part of December” premiered on this site just a few days ago, and the video does a good job of showcasing the feelings I felt while listening to the song. Erickson’s lyrics of, “A kind of portrait of the new year / the lack of sureness hurts my eyes / A pair of intravenous flytraps that help my blood move every night,” does a good job of explaining the anxiety and uncertainty that we feel of starting anew and leaving the past behind us.
Album closer “…Forever” slow builds to a massive crescendo at the three-minute mark of the song after Erickson sings, “I’m supposed to go, so I’ll go.” Barely Civil do everything in their musical prowess to make for an amazing closing statement to an album that equally thrills as it does break your heart. Sometimes you hear a record that takes your breath away and makes you realize that the band was really onto something special, and this is one of those instances. I’ll Figure This Out doesn’t have all the answers to what comes next, and that’s fine. The uncertainty of not knowing what comes next is the biggest struggle we all are faced with, and the solace we can feel in seeing these musicians take this concept head-on is enough to make us want to press on.