Expectations can mess with your mind as a music fan. We all have favorite bands, but there’s a weird sort of contradiction where those favorite bands are also the ones most likely to disappoint us. Hearing a new record from an unfamiliar artist and having it blow the doors off your mind is a wonderful kind of madness, but it’s also impossible to replicate. Loving an album means accumulating baggage with it—the baggage of years and memories and emotions entwined with the songs. When the next album from that same band comes along, it’s easy to feel let down. Even if the record is good—even if it’s great—expecting it to recapture the magic of the first time is a recipe for disappointment. Virtually every band or artist that has ever made a beloved album contends with this cycle eventually, and it’s part of the reason why most bands don’t last very long. It’s also why maybe the only thing more exciting than having that lightning bolt moment with a new band is hearing one of your favorite artists raise the bar, change the game, and shatter every expectation you had of what their music could sound like, circa right now.
Mother Nature, the fifth LP from The Dangerous Summer, is that kind of album. It takes a band that previously felt like a faded version of its glory days and breathes immense new life into their sound. It makes you excited for this band again, and for what their path might look like going forward. It creates spine-tingling moments of pure catharsis, but in a different way than this band did on their previous beloved albums, 2009’s Reach for the Sun and 2011’s War Paint. And it immediately makes reservations for whole lot of windows-down, sunny-day drives this summer. It’s the right album, at the right time, from a band a lot of people had written off or counted out. And it feels fucking great.
It’s funny the way that albums can mark time. How hearing the right songs at the right moment can make them sound like more than songs, or how going back to those songs after 10 or 15 or 20 years can reawaken every feeling you had when you first heard them. It’s funny, too, how the music that does those things to you might not do anything for anyone else. How something can be an incredibly meaningful and important document of your past, but just sound run-of-the-mill to someone else. Or how, if you’d heard an album a decade or a year or six months too early or too late, it might just be a footnote in your musical history rather than a symphony.
No album has ever taken me more by surprise than The Dangerous Summer ‘s Reach for the Sun. I didn’t see it coming, and I wasn’t looking for it. I had no knowledge of the band or their past work, no clue what they sounded like or what their songs might have to say about my life. I just read a rave review of the album one day on AbsolutePunk and decided to give it a shot. Ten years later, those songs still shoot shivers down my spine and choke me up, because they sound like the cusp of adulthood, and like all the friends and memories I’ve left behind in the past decade.
Reach for the Sun had remarkable timing. Its release date was May 5, 2009, just as spring was bursting into full, glorious bloom. I first heard it on May 3, in the early evening, coming out of old boombox speakers in my bedroom, with the gentle glow of the sunset streaming through my window. The day before, my sister had graduated from college. In another month, I’d graduate from high school. My parents and I had driven home, from Ann Arbor to Traverse City, that afternoon. I had a boatload of calculus homework to do and was dreading the evening. AP exams were just days away, and I needed to buckle down and focus. Certainly, I knew I needed a good soundtrack for the study session. So I downloaded this record on the recommendation of a glowing 95 percent review from Blake Solomon and loaded it onto my iPod.
More than any band I’ve ever loved, I associate The Dangerous Summer with a specific time and place. For three tumultuous summers, as I flailed about recklessly in the no-man’s land between youth and adulthood, there was no band on the planet that meant more to me. The summer of 2009 was encapsulated in the strains of their debut, Reach for the Sun, which caught me in the wake of my high school graduation as I wondered what the next chapter would hold. Their sophomore record, War Paint, played a similar role in the summer of 2011, which followed the worst semester of my life and forced me to question my dreams, my college major, and my entire view of my future. The summer in between was the one where I fell in love with the girl who I would marry, and I still remember driving home late at night from her house, feeling every note and every word of songs like “Northern Lights” and “Never Feel Alone.”
The Dangerous Summer never meant as much to me outside of those summers, or away from that town. This band was the soundtrack of growing up and of magical, lively Julys and Augusts in the town where I grew up—summers where the nights seemed to stretch on forever and the possibilities felt like they were truly endless. Once I finished college and left my hometown behind, it felt like The Dangerous Summer might not have anything left to say about my life. Hearing them again in the summer 2013—the summer after I finished college and tried to make a play for adulthood and the “real world”—the songs played like pale imitations of what I’d loved before. True, that year’s Golden Record was simply a sizable step down from the band’s peak. Even if it hadn’t been, though, I’m not sure it would have resonated with me personally. Again, this was a “time and place” band, and hearing them outside of that time and away from that place felt almost grotesque. It made me miss everything I’d left behind.
The Dangerous Summer returned to play their first show in four years at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore, MD over the weekend. According to those that attended the show, they played some new songs, said a new album would be coming early next year, and mentioned the first single should be coming soon. You can find the setlist below as well as a fan shot video of the new track “Ghost.”