Afterlives - A Ticking Clock I Couldn’t Stop [Enemies List - 2009]As a one-man band from Boston, Afterlives’ ‘A Ticking Clock…’ is very much a first for Will Barrett, whose label proclaims “had never previously written music, never played in a band.” These first steps into composition are firmly placed on the ‘indie rock’ path originally paved by fellow Bay Staters Dinosaur Jr, Galaxie 500 and Pixies.
Will is faithful to this heritage, frequently employing loudQUIETloud contrasts of semi-acoustic and distorted guitars combined with a rapt nasal vocal style reminiscent of J Mascis. Such a sound, having been popularised over more than twenty years now, is no longer ‘alternative’ (the laziest nomenclature of many a genre) but deservedly established as the American folk music of today. As such it is often used as a soundtrack to coming-of-age narratives involving long road trips across vast, unpopulated landscapes. While Afterlives’ songs would certainly suit such scenes, it is some of the subtle differences in production that stimulate the most.
Indeed, all of the nine tracks making up ‘A Ticking Clock…’ are lean in their layers, possibly due to Will’s background as a drummer with an appreciation of gaps being just as important as fills. This means Afterlives’ sound is spared from the hyperbolic mating rituals of many a rock guitarist, and is presented as raw, lo-fi introspection. But the frills are there, they’re just subdued, adding a little colour and hue to a familiar template. There’s the ‘love-em or hate-em’ laconic whine of the vocals, that are almost always enthusiastically distorted suggesting a shyness, and often layered to create harmonic combinations, or, as on ‘Distance Runner’, pitched at a discordant interval to add drama and tension to the obscured words. Or there’s the scrape of the guitar strings, emphasised by reverb, that are central to the rhythm of ‘Bright Shimmering Lights’ that closes the album, ultimately letting all instruments fall away to reveal a wash of synth adding warmth to the angst. Throughout, the drums hold everything together, punctuating with confidence, and even contributing to the contrast on ‘Ever The Optimist’ and ‘Sunderban Tigers’ as each beat becomes overdriven along with all else bursting into a kaleidoscopic, noisy haze until predictably dispelled by the next, quiet verse.Russell Cuzner