Review: Big Awesome, ‘Party On’
It seems that most Modern Baseball-type bands (I say that both cringingly and wholeheartedly because while I do enjoy Mobo’s music, they’re a really lazy comparison to make these days) are the ones being noticed and put on people’s radars. As a music lover, I hate when others pigeonhole bands into like-dissolves-like categories; but as a critic, I have to agree with my peers. It just makes sense to provide a list of similar bands/styles to allow potential listeners to pick-and-choose their music based on my recommendations and varying taste. That being said, Big Awesome is not a Modern Baseball-type, at all: they’re on another level completely. Maybe it’s the indie fanatic inside me, but I am loving every second I spend listening, researching, and waiting for ‘Party On’ to be officially released to the public. So much so that I needed to pre-order the record while I was on the clock at work.. oops. The point is that every band that sounds kinda-sorta-similar to the newest craze isn’t the same entirely; in fact, sometimes they’re a lot better.
I remember first hearing rumblings about a debut Big Awesome LP back in 2014, but nothing completely surfaced while they were playing the waiting game with mixing, mastering, and pressing plants. But then came January of this year, when the opening track was released via Brooklyn Vegan, along with a few interviews and the promise of an album release near spring/summer. With the resurgence of warmer weather and a helpful serving of anticipation thanks to self-promotion and four early-release tracks, the timing of ‘Party On’ couldn’t be any better. Considering the last time we heard new music from Big Awesome was 2012′s ‘Birdfeeder’ EP, it’s certainly been well worth the wait for them to create and record a proper debut. From bouncing around the southern US with multiple bands, working 40-hour jobs, and a track record of five (count ‘em, 5!!) drummers, we’re just lucky enough that they had the time and resources to make a full length.
Conveying a sense of feeling not quite at home in the town you live, this record screams the quintessential swan song of a mid-20s youth still figuring out who he is in life. It’s bildungsroman, if you will. It’s whole and true, unfettered emotion, mostly because just how damn common it is to not feel like you belong. “I watched this fire burn, and turn into my old home/This town, it seems to bury me under all of the shady trees,” goes the chorus of “To Live and Die in the Dirty South.” And similarly, the opening track “What Grows Up Must Get Down,” states: “Sometimes I forget where I am/Sometimes I struggle to find my home.” Think about it; you’re old enough to make big decisions about your life for the first time, but can’t seem to make the transition as smooth as you’d hope, while others seemingly jump over the biggest and best life events in seemingly no time at all. As a recent grad from college, it’s quite scary how true this can be.
Big Awesome is at their absolute best when Colin’s whirling guitars and John’s vocals and pinpoint bass lines collide in a classic t-bone. It’s the intricacies that really make tracks like “Hooper” stand out, which is my personal favorite from the record. Starting from a solo acoustic guitar with some shimmery reverb, John croons, “When I was young, those were the days before we went our separate ways/We met each night between those trees, to hide ourselves and find our friends,” before the song gallops into a full band track that’s sure to delight old and new fans. They’re also not afraid to let their technical ability speak for itself, as they explore some instrumental and groovy sections in “Wolf,” “Warning,” and the closer “Wookie Blaylock.” In an interview I watched via The Alternative, Colin notes the first “secret tuning” he made up and used on “Birdfeeder” from the EP, and I have an inkling that he’s experimented even more on this release. It’s a style of songwriting I can get behind: minimal, but poignant lyrics backed by brilliant instrumentals and memorable melodies.
While most of the songs found on ‘Party On’ are relatively old (as in written like 2 years ago), they function like fully bloomed ideas in the warmth of spring. “Wolf” is one of the most exceptional examples, sporting the familiar boy-cries-wolf theme with not-so-familiar details and probably the best guitar lines on the entire record. The following track, “Foliage,” paints a picture of an old tree that has seen and experienced everything, begging, “I bring you life, don’t cut me down,” in it’s closing moments. And lastly, “Wookie Blaylock” showcases the band’s two major attitudes towards life: unconditional love of the 90s and staying positive no matter what. “Stay up late, early rise/Seize your day, make you life/Feel free to be you.” It’s a charm that doesn’t really exist in today’s emo scene, even as welcoming and expansive as it’s become, but Big Awesome seem to embrace everything as one part of a whole big, awesome picture.
The best way for me to describe Big Awesome’s brand of power-emo is through sheer nostalgia. You all remember that scene in every 90′s movie ever, right? The scene of a kid laying down on his bed and throwing a baseball up into the air over and over, all because he just moved in and hasn’t made friends quite yet. Listening to South Carolina’s finest evokes the same feeling of being young and carefree, just throwing the same ball around for hours. But don’t be fooled, because this party is soaked in emotion from every word sung by John Blanken and his youthful voice. It’s not that they’re trying not to be emo, they just prefer to stay on the positive side of the spectrum (according to guitarist Colin Czerwinski and the lovely folks over at Jetsam Flotsam). Regardless of your feelings on emotional music, Big Awesome accomplishes two things thanks to a phenomenal debut album: being fucking awesome and hoping to get big. Let’s hope that 2015 is their year, cause ‘Party On’ is an absolute rager. 5/5