Ages and Ages - Divisionary

This isn’t your mama’s church, but it’s a church you’d check out once (or twice if you’re in the mood).

Additional Info

6.7

ALBUM: Divisionary

ARTIST: Ages and Ages

2014

Alternative

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.”

1. Light Goes Out
Ages and Ages opens Divisionary with the best track of the album. “Light Goes Out” is an energetic, bright, and dynamic track. About fifty seconds in, they sing, “All I want to say are the words with any meaning. Yeah, and I’ll be that way ‘til the light goes out.” Afterwards, the light in the song goes out—the track turns itself off to reopen with a different light. The forward melody highlights the warm and obliging voices that guide us to a hopeful place. The clapping, the variations within the chorale and on top of the melodic voice, and the surprising but delightful shift almost a minute into the track, make “Light Goes Out” a strong and intriguing opener to Divisionary.8.5
2. I See More
Ages and Ages shifts to a more folky tone—one that harkens back to the 60s or even the 70s. This decision reflects the track’s theme. “I See More” is about reconsidering the past with external reassurance. Mining one’s memory is hard, but Ages and Ages promises they’ll “be on your side.” It’s a short and cute track that reveals the band’s wholesome optimism.6.5
3. No Pressure
This track is a good example of the band’s ability to covertly disguise serious subject matter with a juxtaposed sound. They sing, “and what I saw was the mess they made...couldn’t turn it off, so I had to turn away.” Later, “everything they fought for, they wanted me to fight for too...You can take it all, but you can’t take it away.” The ambiguity of the “mess,” the “they,” and the subtle references to war, political unrest, and violence are presented to us with a light, almost bouncy sound. The track turns the volume up on itself to bring us to its apex. At this point, the band corrals into a chorus, singing from an elevated place. This is the best part of the track.7.0
4. Big Idea
This summery track puts me under palm trees on an island. It’s a place I don’t expect myself to see based on the context built by the previous tracks. “Big Idea” would be completely underwhelming, even dismissible, if it weren’t for the curiously dark and ambiguous lyrics: “With all the dark around me so cold I couldn’t even see the curtains drop their weight on me like a sweater” and “Home, all my memories are sheltered beside me like a furnace burning either way I choose to turn."5.5
5. The Weight Below
The track suggestively opens with “I know, I know the weight below making you cautious.” The “you” oscillates from the specific to the general. At times, the track seems to be addressed to the listener. The band, at one point, requests “patience” and to “consider us all, consider us all once in awhile”—demanding a certain level of understanding from the listener. At the same time, the track can be addressed to a governing system or group—asking for a podium. This interplay elevates the track’s motive. Moreover, the despondent, sometimes detached and lackadaisical tone riding on top of emotive wavelike instrumentals, makes this track have a Pixies-aftertaste. The saccharine and childlike chorus, however, cheapens the track. The choir sounds a bit like Kidz Bop.6.0
6. Over It
We move to a denser sound in the album’s longest track. The spaced-out drumming makes “Over It” feel larger than the previous tracks. The ascending repetition of “I’m over it, I’m over it, I’m over it, I’m oh—oh—" create a mesmerizing, almost trancelike, effect that’s also an element unnoticeable in the previous tracks. Roughly two minutes in, the sound shifts—again, showing the band’s unapologetic use of turns. In a track about moving on without regrets, shame, and guilt, Ages and Ages regains some momentum.7.0
7. Our Demons
This track attempts to create a communal space for us, the community, (or perhaps a diplomatic arena between the “good” and the “enemy”) to talk about our “demons.” “We’re not so different you and I. You got your reasons for avoiding your demons and I know got mine.” The lyrics here are also particularly violent—“tear your flesh apart and then get angry ‘cause you’re dragging all your blood across the floor”—making this song extra dark. The best elements of this track are the keyboard solo and the darker lyricism.6.5
8. Ante Up
“I got a life in the breeze in the branches. Shake the leaves and make a presence known.” The band sings about allowing oneself to participate in something larger than one’s self. The sweet spot of this track is when the choir comes in to repeat, “Ante up, won’t you ante up.” This part feels the most naturally compelled—it feels most like the “breeze in the branches” mentioned earlier.6.5
9. Calamity Is Overrated
The beginning is reminiscent of The Shins’ “New Slang” and uncomfortably so. A narcissistic pessimism is reconfigured as encouragement: “...everything that came before this serves no purpose. Let’s get one thing straight. Our past is in the ashes.” Later, the band sings, “There’s no hope now, yeah, but it was never there so here we go.” The ending, however, offers hope—“Free from the undertow, I ain’t ever gonna go down.” Here, the instruments retract to create a soft setting for the vocals to shine. In the end, though, this is just another encouraging track that suggests one to accept the bleak in order to overcome it.5.0
10. These Ravines
This track has one of the most interesting beginnings of the album. The melody is softened into a lullaby. Contrasting this, is a harder, more direct lyricism—“There’s a reason we’re out here, but you have no use, so go back to wherever you came from before and remember your manners ‘cause someday we’ll sure to be ashes, ashes, everyone.” Later, the band sings, “It makes no difference what you say to us, we don’t even take you serious.” “These Ravines” carry an angst not found in the previous tracks. It’s a welcomed change.7.0
11. Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)
In the title track, we return to the kind of sound I expected most of this album would circle—the kind of sound I enjoyed in the first track, “Light Goes Out.” The voices interact beautifully to help the album reach a satisfying close. This anthemic song is another attempt at encouragement, but the ricocheting voices make this attempt more emotive and more memorable. The band sings, “Make yourself right, never mind them. Don’t you know you’re not the only one suffering.” Later, the band sings, “...they ain’t moving, they’re just moving around so if you love yourself, you better get out, get out, get out, get out now.”8.0
Denver transplant Jenifer Park roll tides at the University of Alabama for her MFA in poetry.

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