The New Year haven’t made a record for nine years, but they’ve been busy. Matt and Bubba Kadane’s previous band Bedhead had their career feted with a comprehensive box set and the brothers joined with David Bazan and Will Johnson in the band Overseas and put out an album in 2013. Through it all, they kept working on another New Year album, polishing demos into full-fledged songs, refining and reworking lyrics, basically taking their time and to get it right. The “it” in this case being crystal-clear indie rock, built around twining guitars, steady rhythms and Matt Kadane’s near-whispered vocals. If you remember Bedhead, you’ll get it. If you were smart enough to follow the Kadanes to the New Year, you’ll get it even more. If you’ve never heard either band, well… it’s not too late to discover one of the best bands to ever pick up guitars and quietly build an impressive, monumentally intimate career out of a few chords, lots of space and an innate sense of what makes a song work.
Recorded off and on in between jobs, lives and responsibilities and at at a variety of locales, like Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio, the Echo Lab in Denton and at houses in Texas, New York and California, the fourth album by the New Year may have taken a long time to make, but it only takes one spin for it to sink deep into the listener’s heart and mind. Snow utilizes many of the same aspects that made Bedhead so great, like playing the space between notes, wrapping the guitars around each other like overgrown vines and parking the song’s tempos in the sweet spot between peacefully somnambulant and oddly uplifting. It also retains all the upgrades (keyboards, trickier arrangements and more diverse rhythms courtesy of drummer Chris Brokaw) that made the three New Year albums such an impressive body of work.
This time out, the band, which also includes bassist Mike Donofrio, takes the sonic renovations a step further, building on the expansive foundations of their self-titled 2008 album and making their fourth album their best-sounding, most highly arranged and most emotional record yet. With songs that charge ahead in almost rocking fashion (“Recent History”) and ballads that gently ramble (“Dead and Alive”), space filled epics that rise and fall like ocean waves on a stormy night (“Myths”) and hypnotic meditative jams (“The Beast”) that unspool like heroic tales as the guitars weave together and form into walls of heartbreaking sound. All things they’ve done before, true, but all things that they do with the utmost skill and the occasional burst of beauty. New this time out is the appearance on a few tracks of some very smooth electric piano playing, especially on the glacially-paced, nearly too pristine to touch title track. The keys show up again on “The Last Fall,” a baroque-pop song that has a light-on-its-feet approach and a bit of the feel of the Left Banke if they had never even met Renee in the first place and just stayed in bed feeling sad. The rest of the album holds surprises too; “Amnesia” has a little bit of country shuffle going on, and there’s some disco in the bubbling basslines, syncopated hi-hats and late-night creep of “The Party’s Over.”
Maybe the biggest shock is that the basic sound the Kadanes have been doing since 1991 hasn’t grown stale or even aged a day. The songs on Snow are vital and alive, with everyone playing their hearts out. The Kadanes’ guitars have never sounded more electric and wiry, Donofrio’s bass is the perfect foundation for the brothers’ explorations and Brokaw is simply a rock behind them all, never overplaying and always doing exactly the thing that needs to be done. That’s a pretty rare thing, and if you’re a drummer you need to check this record out for some tips.
No matter what subtle stylistic shifts the group employs or what new instruments they add to the arrangements, the laconic everyman vocals of Matt Kadane keep the songs grounded, so does the band’s instinct to never do anything flashy when they can do something true instead. They aren’t about to drop electronic beats into a track or have a guest appearance from whatever weirdo is flavor of the month. This is music made by real guys with real lives and not a ton of time to mess around. It’s music made to make a real, lasting connection and as anyone who’s been following the Kadanes since the Bedhead days knows, their songs become a part of your life if you let them. Snow is another volume of music that will quietly change lives, will fill in the empty spaces and bring warmth on winter days and lonely summer nights.
: Chris Brokaw : : New : : PRF Distro : : The New Year :