Like many of their early listeners, I let Phoenix’s The Maine fall out of my musical repertoire right as I exited the ubiquitous pop-punk phase around end of my freshman year of high school. However, in a burst of nostalgia and still-burning love for their catchy hits such as “Everything I Ask For” and “Into Your Arms,” my friend surprised me with tickets to see them at Sacramento’s Ace of Spades for my 16th birthday.
Expecting an evening filled with stereotypically danceable pop-punk, I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that with their most recent release, “Forever Halloween,” the band had morphed into a style of rock that can only be described as crunchy and melodic at the same time, much like if one were to take the guitar tones Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and morph them with the hoarse, yet somehow smooth vocals of ’90s grunge.
Extremely intrigued by this new sound, I immediately went home and bought the album. But that didn’t satiate my curiosity. How had the band that once fueled my angst-ridden, boy-crazed middle school years turned into such effortlessly cool rock stars, and how had I not found out about it earlier?
Upon my research, I discovered that after their epic departure from their Warner Brothers/Action Theory record deal the band had gone in an entirely different direction, deciding not only to produce their next album entirely on their own as they had with 2012’s “Pioneer,” but to record it completely live on reel to reel tape with the help of The Raconteurs’ Brendan Benson.
In an email interview, the band’s drummer, Pat Kirch, explained that this method of recording allowed for absolutely no editing to be done to the songs, something that they are very proud of. Kirch explained that the band was led towards live recording by none other than musician Ryan Adams.
“We have always loved records that were recorded live but never thought that it was something we could do just because we were never around people that worked that way,” Kirch said. “Ryan Adams invited us to his studio and talked to us about the art of recording to tape and that is when we knew we wanted to consider recording the record that way. When we started to talk to Brendan Benson he made it clear that he made record to tape and that is the only way he would want to do it.”
While this process of recording was a new experience for the band, it was overall a positive one and, with the help of Benson and his expertise, created an authentic, raw sound that sets “Forever Halloween” apart from any other mainstream rock album that came out in 2013.
The band’s maturity is shown through the variance of sounds on the record, from the rollickingly catchy “Love and Drugs” to the extremely Petty-esque “Sad Songs” to the morosely poetic “These Four Words,” but the track that always stood out to me was the album’s opener, “Take What You Can Carry.” With a beat supplied entirely by claps and stomps from the band members, it’s deliciously upbeat while also showing off the ability of lead singer John O’Callaghan to go from a smooth, though at times intriguingly growly, verse into an anthemic rock chorus.
Close behind it is the album’s third cut, “RUN,” which supplies a rock energy combined with O’Callaghan’s gravelly croon and has seemed to be a crowd favorite both of the times I have seen it performed live. This song, along with the title track, which Kirch said “really showcased us stepping into a different direction in a really natural way,” are probably two of the most interestingly developed songs on the album and, while he concedes that there is no such thing as a “best song,” are two of his personal favorites off of the album.
It has been over a year since “Forever Halloween” was released and, in recognition of this, the band will be “laying it to rest” in a way by playing four farewell shows throughout the U.S. this October before heading out to Heber, Arizona to spend time writing their next album, which will be produced through the same process as “Forever Halloween.”
“We are still in the early stages of figuring out how it is all going to work,” Kirch said. “I think we learned so much from Brendan and are going to take that with us into this new album but try and pull from new areas as well and take some chances on sounds we have not tried before.”
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