The Dark, Dark Bright, the second (and many assumed last) LP from Glasgow indie rock band There Will Be Fireworks, arrived stuck between stations. It was clearly smeared in the folk rock music that had cropped up toward the latter end of the 2000s, and it owed a not-insignificant debt to the emo of the ’90s, and there’s of course more than a little post-rock in cuts like “Ash Wednesday” and the swell of “River” and “So Stay Close.” It didn’t neatly fit into any of those boxes, though, and while they could be easily compared to local peers like Frightened Rabbit or Friends in America, they could also be considered a transatlantic response to American emo revival groups like Foxing or Prawn who looked toward earthier, more expansive music outside of punk for inspiration.
There Will Be Fireworks, like so many bands who put out a couple of excellent records and then fell silent indefinitely, developed a cult following in the intervening years. No one else really capitalized on their departure, filled the niche they’d left behind. They hadn’t made a big enough splash in their half-decade existence for anyone to want to.
It’s in this context that Summer Moon arrives, a decade to the month that The Dark, Dark Bright came out. It is, understandably, a record about rebirth, return, recurrence; the chorus of the very first track is the belted mantra “I’m coming home,” and Nicholas McManus’ lyrics continue from there. He’s wondering, it seems, if there’s even still a place for There Will Be Fireworks, most obviously on “Bedroom Door,” which finds him pleading, “don’t say you want to leave” before he admits that his “hollowed heart is still here / if you want it.” But other songs are similarly explicit, asking pointedly, “is this what you want? / am I what you want?” and “where did the time go?” and “do you recognize me?” and the even plainer “do you remember me?” The answer isn’t ever found in the lyrics, but it’s clear in the music: Summer Moon is There Will Be Fireworks at their very best.
There are more than enough moments that recapture the magic that the band tapped into on There Will Be Fireworks and The Dark, Dark Bright, like the quiet-loud jolt of comeback single “Classic Movies” or the autumnal drift of “Love Comes Around.” The second track on The Dark, Dark Bright, titled “River,” has long been the fan favorite pick for the band with its do-or-die energy and its cathartic, forever-ascending feeling of perpetual motion, but the penultimate cut on this LP might usurp that title. “Second City, Setting Sun” ups the ante immediately with the inclusion of strings and a subtler, less obvious structure, rising and falling gradually before a sudden tempestuous bridge kicks the song into another gear.
But even more impressive is the variety of new tricks the band picked up during their slumber. “Our Lady of Sorrows” and “Something Borrowed” are expansive, sparkling takes on synth-led heartland rock; both songs are more rock than anything found on either of their previous LPs, full of drum rolls and acrobatic guitar lines and soaring hooks. They never sound like cosplay, though; this isn’t There Will Be Fireworks play-acting as The War on Drugs–rather, it’s an example of the band naturally growing the way they might’ve if they’d never gone silent. This works in the other direction too: There Will Be Fireworks have always had folk leanings, but they’ve never delved into the genre as fully to the genre as they do on album centerpiece “Old-Time Tunes.” Then there’s the way the 90-second “Bedroom Door” teases out a climax but settles instead for a dusting of strings, or how “Bloody Mary” closes things out warbling, metallic synths and chiming piano keys rather than an explosive release of tension.
It’s a fitting conclusion to Summer Moon, in that way; it’s the sigh of relief after the 50 hard-fought minutes that preceded it. It’s worth noting, too, that while “Bloody Mary” is one of the simplest songs on the record, it also might be McManus’ best lyrical showing. His voice nearly swallowed up by the echoing synths around him, as the record crawls to a close, he manages to choke out one request: “Whatever this life brings / at the end of everything / I want to hear you sing.” It’s a humble ask for a man who’d spend the entire record up until this point wondering if anyone would still want to listen to his band. Whether it’s two years before another There Will Be Fireworks album, or it’s ten again, or it never comes, they’ve made peace with what they’ve given us. Listening to Summer Moon, it’s hard not to feel the same.
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Summer Moon is out now.
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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