The band formerly known as We Are Augustines makes a welcome return, and it is the third time that the band has, in one way or another, started from scratch. Singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson’s previous band Pela sadly dissolved in tumultuous circumstances before they had a chance to make the impression they should have.
After a series of record company problems and personal tragedies, things could have ground to a halt, but McCarthy and Sanderson decided to continue working together and formed Augustines. Following a legal dispute, forcing a name change to We Are Augustines for their first album, they dealt primarily with the issues of loss, frustration, and McCarthy’s brother’s suicide. Somehow, it was one of the most uplifting albums released in 2012 (or 2011, depending on where you live).
Now, with the legal issues resolved, and drummer Rob Allen fully integrated into the recording line up of the band, Augustines feels like another fresh start for a band that apparently, and thankfully, never give up. Rise Ye Sunken Ships was the sound of a band (and specifically McCarthy) dealing with extreme adversity, and facing it head on. Augustines is them taking stock, moving on and figuring out where to go next. It is said that great art comes from suffering, and that’s certainly true of the band’s debut album, whose songs worked through the tragedies of life and provided a sense of togetherness and understanding for those that heard them. They were damaged and personal songs, but they offered hope and something to cling to.
The central conceit of this album is one of taking stock of life, or as the band describes it “a walkabout”. Where do you go when you come out the other side? How do you define yourself, where does the journey go now? Onwards and upwards seems to be the answer. This time around, the waters are perhaps a little calmer but Augustines have retained their inspirational sound and outlook. They’re a little more refined perhaps, but these songs somehow manage to pack an even heavier emotional punch. This is in part thanks to the production skills of Peter Katis, who brings clarity to the band’s sound and unsurprisingly hints of The National (Katis is their go-to-guy) are scattered across the album. This is most notable on the emotional rollercoaster of This Ain’t Me, a song whose central character battles with the need to change and his ability to actually do so. Musically it’s a masterclass of catch and release; it’s a perfectly paced, lurching beast of taut emotions.
Augustines has always been capable of creating rousing songs, but this is an album full of them, and it never once feels too much or overstated. McCarthy’s vocals manage to combine a steely determination and a sense of hurt that makes every line swell with a truth that resonates. When he asks “what am I rolling from? Myself and everyone – let it go” on Now You Are Free, it’s easy to empathise, and take the advice. Cruel City’s enormous chanted refrain is destined to become a joyous outpouring at gigs, sounding like a chant of togetherness and epiphany (the juxtaposition with a chain gang chant, surely indicates that you have to work on yourself to be free).
By contrast Weary Eyes is a slow burn shuffle that possesses the poetry and sound of latter day Bruce Springsteen. It is utterly beautiful. Walkabout finds the band indulging in a little soul (think Parliament‘s The Silent Boatman) which expands out into a fountain of wonder (think Sigur Rós). It is an elegant and heart stopping centrepiece. And closing the album is the militaristic stomp of Hold On To Anything, a song that sums up the band’s determination. If life is a war, then this is the Augustines’ call to battle. There’s such belief here that it’s hard to imagine they will ever be defeated.