Going to the Sun
Love Letters from the Western Gate
Minneapolis has been in the news, most for the wrong reasons lately, although reforms are beginning to take shape. Out of that darkness and anger bursts forth a group that’s been together for a while now and as their name suggests, theirs is an uplifting brand of earthy electric folk-pop infused with harmonies and hooks. It’s a blend that’s conducive to summer, to singalongs, to giving one a boost when feeling down or bored. This is their first album in six years and is sounds vocally like the Beach Boys and instrumentally more like Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse, to name just a couple. The core of the band is two brothers – David Young (vocals, guitar, mando, keys) and Zach Young (drums. Percussion, vocals). They are supported by three different bassists, additional keys on some tracks, and three background vocalists depending on the track. If there was an ideal album for headphones and/or distinct speaker separation, this is as sonically rich as any.
The liners go into interesting detail about the Western Gate and we’re extracting that here as provides some insight into these ethereal sounds. “Somewhere along the California coast lies a place long know to native as the Western gate, a doorway where souls are believed to depart this life and enter into the next…It’s like a magic eye image: you can’t see it if you’re looking too hard. I’ve certainly looked too hard. It’s eluded me. And then grateful glimpses have appeared out of nowhere when I’ve least expected them. I’ve heard the melody in dreams. I can’t remember the words, but pieces come back to me…This album is dedicated to all those who seek the western gate, those on the other side of it, and those who hold the song of the beloved in their heart.”
The album opens with ‘Music for a Party’ with lots of guitar, snares and hauntingly silky vocals. It sets the tone for what’s to follow. “Hopeful Song,” the single and video, has some country hues, another happy vibe that promotes resilience. The brothers are joined by Tonia Hughes Kendrick and Sara Renner on the glorious vocals. “Broken, Still Beating” amplifies the message of resilience. (Ironically, the band could not have possibly forecasted the thousands demonstrating in their home city, crying out for a more hopeful future. The album was released on day 11 of said demonstrations). These common themes of hope, positivity. and recovery could potentially serve as a soundtrack in this election year even though there is no outright political fare in the lyrics. The first three tunes bounce along joyously until reaching the title track which is appropriately more contemplative and sensitive as it’s about renewal.
“Dark Before The Dawn” is lushly haunting with layers of keys as David Young implores us to find the silver lining. “Remember Who Your Are” shuffles along propelled by Zach Young’s incessant beats and imbues with the backgrounds of Kendrick, Renner and Amber Young, the only tune that features all three. “Dustbowl” is a standout track, with its shifting dynamics and the indelible chorus against a more minimal musical backdrop – “How long can we hold out/Howl long can we wait/How long can we duffer, how long do we stay”
“Rodeo” is a metaphor for renewed confidence as David Young sings about not being dragged down again, and instead riding hard courageously. The tremolo guitar part seems purposely reminiscent of those iconic guitar lines in Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” It’s s witty touch. “Closer Every Day” slows it down, for one of David’s best vocals yet the song quickly builds to their signature wall of sound of keys and guitars with just David and Zach on vocals. Again, we have one of those indelible singalong choruses with “I’ll be waiting round the corner when you call me.” The closing “What Would I Say” raises a series of rhetorical existential questions but ultimately serves to remind us to appreciate every moment of every day.
Most importantly Going to The Sun with their hopeful messaging, grandiose sound, and unforgettable melodies, give us reason to smile in these troubled times.
- Jim Hynes