If there’s anything Brooklyn-based band The Big Easy can count on as they release their debut record A Long Year, it’s that there’s probably absolutely nobody with whom that title isn’t gonna resonate. The end of 2020 is in reach now, and while, sure, in some ways it feels like the start of it was only two weeks ago, it also feels like it was a thousand years ago. A pandemic, the ever-growing creep of fascism, however many personal battles we all may have had, and all before whatever is to come on election day; it’s been a long, scary, exhausting and often hopeless year. To state the obvious, we live in a very different world now than we did back on January 1st.
A Long Year was penned in that old world, and it sounds like a time that’s gone now, if hopefully temporarily. This is raucous, beer-soaked, dive bar punk. This is being jammed into a tight space with strangers and feeling the spray of sweat and spit like it’s ocean mist and not a potential death sentence. Remember that? It sounds kinda horrifying now, but also like to just experience that one more time would be some kind of salvation.
The Big Easy don’t claim to offer salvation though, not even for themselves. Vocalist/guitarist Stephen Bethomieux’s long year involved a breakup and all of its fallout, and it’s this that echoes across the album; the depression, the bitterness, the self-loathing, the yearning, the coping mechanisms (not all healthy). It’s steeped with drunken hurting and hungover shame. It’s someone who doesn’t have the energy to hide from how fucked up he’s become. Bethomieux isn’t trying to write an epic, he’s just trying to make it to tomorrow.
If that sounds like a slog, believe me when I say it isn’t; in fact, the first thing the record tells us as it jumps into the opening riff of ‘It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Hurt’ is that it’s really fucking fun. This is a party riff if you’ve ever heard one, and the song is the record’s catchiest moment. Stylistically and spiritually, the band is in the vein of The Menzingers, PUP, perhaps some earlier Joyce Manor and some later Wonder Years, all of which should give you an idea of the caliber of explosive energy their songs can yield. You can so easily imagine the push pit to the more excitable tracks on here, most tangibly ‘It’s All Fun and Games…’ and ‘If I Knew It Was The Last Time’, and damn if it wouldn’t be a tough one to resist.
That’s not to say that it’s without gravity. There’s a dark, weighty quality to the record’s sonics, something they lean into with more brooding tracks like ‘Alone’ and ‘New Years Day’. It allows the record’s tough ruminations to feel important and anchored, rather than just background noise for a party record. Bethomieux’s ragged, impassioned vocals do a whole lot for the songs on this record too, gifting them a raw intensity that lifts them above the ranks of punk rock stock. It’s this patent emotiveness coupled with the carefully crafted melodies that would make the songs deeply inviting to howl along to in a crowd. (You’ll notice that it’s difficult not to talk about this record in live music terms; the timing of its release is somehow both appropriate and tragic).
I suppose aside from the riffs, the main reason A Long Year doesn’t feel miserable is that its overriding feel is of catharsis. It never feels that Bethomieux is wallowing or whining; it feels that he’s expelling, in a way that is true and essential. It’s achingly real, like you can almost feel the weight being set free yourself, and there’s a joy to that – or at least a sense of fulfillment – even when it involves clawing up from rock bottom. This makes it feel all the more like a record worth becoming invested in, worth keeping close to the heart, much like a Never Hungover Again or an On The Impossible Past. While you trudge through the last few months of this long, difficult year, it could be just the accompaniment you need.