ARTIST: Ages and Ages
It’s easy to exhaust the “church” metaphor with Ages and Ages, but that is what their sound is like. Based in Portland, OR, Ages and Ages is a big band with big, noble hopes. Their music is responsible—it carries an optimism and concern for others that is quasi-political and sweet (almost saccharine). From their biography on Partisan Records’ website, we are advised to consider Ages and Ages as “a collective of like-minded souls that believe in the power of music to change the world and elevate the spirit.” The current reiteration of Ages and Ages is made up of eight members—Tim Perry (guitar), Rob Oberdorfer (bass), Sarah Riddle (percussion), John McDonald (guitar), Becca Schultz (keys), Annie Bethancourt (guitar, percussion), Levi Cecil (drums), and Jade Brings Plenty (percussion). In addition to their respective instruments, all members contribute vocals. The band uses clapping, a chorale, and hymn-like anthems to communicate their cause. Allusions to sermonic language are used frequently. In “Our Demons,” “demons” carry the connotation of “sin” or “wrongdoing.” “The Weight Below” subtly alludes to hell by describing those who are at the bottom of the community or a governing system. The choir even acts as its own congregation—voices gather to serve and support each another.
Welcome to the church of modern day hipster-saints. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way. In fact, I believe encouraging each other and cultivating a contagious optimism should always be “hip.” What I mean to say is that Ages and Ages built a place for worshipping each other and the community—a place where love is communal and unconditional—that manages to fit in today’s socially compartmentalized world. Frontman and one of Ages and Ages’ founding members, Tim Perry, considers Divisionary as the score to the band’s second stage of their musical journey. Perry contends the band’s first album, Alright You Restless (2011), depicted the band’s own restlessness to open the door to their music. While Alright You Restless was made in only eight days, Divisionary took a series of long and demanding months. During this time, monumental and sometimes trying events occurred to the band members. Allowing these events to inform this album allowed the band to make an album that not only reflected the personal experiences of the band members, but also allowed them the space to communicate their still optimistic, yet matured and wayward outlooks on life. Therefore, Divisionary is thematically more “grown-up” than Alright You Restless. With Divisionary, Ages and Ages addresses the events and feelings that can divide a community. This awareness of divisions, or barriers and limits, is evident even in the band’s slight tweak to their name. The band changed their name from AgesandAges to Ages and Ages—the slivers of spaces between the words reflecting the band’s understanding of what divides can sometimes be the point for more union.
Ages and Ages often disguises the darkness of their content in an upbeat, light sound. If clapping is an act of celebration or some form of exuberance, then the band is caught celebrating the knowledge of knowing hardship and frustration. There’s also an ambiguity in the lyricism that is sinisterly didactic or forlorn and despondent. The interaction of the many voices is the most unique and compelling feature of the band. Because the voices often interact with each other in interesting and smart ways, I’m curious to hear an a cappella version of most of these tracks. Divisionary is also familiar, but in inconsistently welcomed and confused ways. At points, their sound is like an unsettled combination of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros plus The Shins plus the Pixies. Sounds like an intriguing fusion, but here it’s, at best, an homage to these bands, not a riveting translation of their sounds. The first song, “Light Goes Out,” is unfortunately the best track of the album. The remainder of the album wakes between “OK” and “huh.” In this way, the album is like a single sermon—it opens emphatically, then tapers off, then comes back with some kind of “bang.” The final track, thankfully, is a solid close to the album. If we further consider Divisionary as a single sermon, we learn the lesson that Ages and Ages is open to learning as much as they are open to teaching. This is how sharing should happen in any exchange. What I respect about Ages and Ages is that they proudly carry the lofty hopes that their music exists to revive the listener’s spirit and to affect some kind of large-scale change. Because their music flexes their selves and because their music is unabashedly touched by what they experience at the present moment, their music extends from inside, to the outside where we are—where we share the same insecurities and hopes of living in today’s often confusing and overwhelming world. And this is the juncture where Ages and Ages puts up their tent for worship.
“All I want to say are the words with any meaning.”