Written by Joel Funk
I have a lot of faith in the future of Slow and Steady. I remember hearing the demo version of the song “35mm” for the first time and being in the same state of awe that hearing the Mansions song “Close That Door” put me in. That’s a comparison that I’ve found myself coming back to a lot recently – and not just because the two bands exist in the same sonic plane, because there’s a lot more to it than that. Both Jacob [Lawter, Slow and Steady] and Christopher [Browder, Mansions] are able to write songs that are very deeply rooted in their own personal lives, and still make them feel applicable to the listener. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that I’m at the ripe ol’ age of twenty-two, listening to songs written by men in their mid-twenties about life in their early twenties. I can acknowledge the existence of that bias, but don’t let it sway you from the ultimate truth of the statement – if you’re looking for some of the best songwriting that you’re ever going to hear, I urge you to listen to ‘Dig Up The Dead’ and ‘In Time We Belong.’
It’s clear that Lawter has a minimalist mindset when it comes to songwriting. He has no problem being frank with the stories he’s trying to tell or the emotion that he is trying to convey. He’s not going to waste time dressing things up or disarming them through the use of metaphor. That was something I made note of when I heard “35mm” last Summer. This track is all self-reflection to the point of deprecation, and is a stark example of the kind of songwriting that we just talked about. Lyrics like “I write this song every six months or so/I only change the tune” or “I’ve done things that I wish I could talk back/I promised the world when nothing I had could ever amount to that” are at home next to the likes of “I cried love so many times that I don’t believe myself.” I already loved this song on it’s own, but seeing the way that Lawter made it feel in the context of the record really drove it home for me.
‘In Time We Belong’ comes to a start with “Watching Life Go By.” This song feels like the overarching narrative of the rest of the record. So much so, that if I had to summarize the record with just one song, this would be the one. The use of the lines “Call the search party and tell them that I died watching my life go by” and “Welcome to your twenties/You’ve got a long way to go/It doesn’t help to know that everyone is miserable” cemented that fact. You start the record with this song and then get to hear Lawter essentially score his early twenties.
Loss of identity due to the loss of another has never sounded as beautiful as it does on “Out of Touch.” Hearing the soft, sprawling delivery of “You say we look just the same/but I hope that isn’t true/When I look in the mirror/I don’t want to see you” and “I don’t know who I am anymore/Those thick black lines are fading now” over music that peddles back and forth between crawling and crashing is enough to melt the most stoic of humans. This is one of those songs that sits in the base of your spine, like the rumored lingering of LSD, waiting for the most opportune moment to strike.
The simplicity of the music on ‘In Time We Belong’ is what helps to make it beautiful. In an interview with SceneSC, Lawter stated that this was a very deliberate choice he made with this record. Not only because that is how he naturally writes, but because he wanted to make sure that the songs sounded great both with and without a full band. He has succeeded on that front, creating a record that sounds great as a finished product but sounded great when he decided that he was going to play the record live via Periscope. As a listener, I appreciate this. I tend to pay the most attention to the vocals and the lyrics, and I’m happy to have a record where those two things seem to be at the forefront of it.
“The Kind of Warmth That Freezes You” is one of the most beautiful songs on the record. A very vivid picture is painted by lyrics like “You showed up drunk/Like a dog in the rain/Dirty paws on the door/I welcome you in” and “Whiskey fresh on your breath/I let you in my bed.” I think what really sells this track is the use of orchestral instruments. Beneath that vivid lyrical picture is a haunting and beautiful use of strings and a trumpet that will tug at those of your heart. It’s a soft, sad, and sweet sort of calm that brings us to what is easily my favorite song on the record.
“Pendulum” starts out crashing and then hits you with a tidal wave of emotion. I am not exaggerating when I say that this song will fucking crush you. I’ve talked about Lawter’s lyrics to the point of exhaustion, but we’re almost done, so just bare with me a little longer. There is a line in which Lawter talks about personal growth and his mother that reads “My mother used to draw lines on the wall to chart my growth/She’d say “You’ve become so tall”/And I believed her then/She was always right after all/but laying on my bed now/I wonder/have I grown at all,” and it hits me like a punch to the stomach every time. The cherry on the sundae comes immediately after that though. Bandit’s Angela Plake has a spot on this track, and Jesus Christ, if you have not listened to Bandit before now, please change that immediately. She has one of the most beautiful voices that I’ve ever heard.
“Lost At Sea” is something else. It’s a slow burner of an exit and feels a moment of clarity and ownership of the stories we’ve just heard. The last lyric of the record is “It’s easier for me to believe you’re lost at sea than for me to believe that you’re there, not listening to me.” Cementing the fact that we have come to a close with a sense of closure. The novel of Lawter’s early twenties has come to a close and we’ve all found ourselves as characters in the form of passive observers. I don’t know that I will hear a record that resonates with me as much as ‘In Time We Belong’ has this year. This is a record that is more than deserving of all the reverie and praise that I’ve thrown its way today. It’s deserving of a resounding “amen.” I would have lost my mind trying to write something so perfect. An easy five out of five.