Rarely do bands employ more than one principal songwriter for various reasons. Chemistry within the band, massaging egos, and coherence across an album are among the most challenging issues. In some cases, the multi-songwriter approach has worked (e.g., Canadian band Sloan), but it usually has resulted in the dissolution of the group (see The Beatles). In the case of Richmond, Virginia-based Avers, they have found strength in numbers, as four of the band’s five members take the songwriting and vocal lead.
What makes Avers unique is that despite the multiple pens, their songs are surprisingly cohesive and complementary. Part of the reason is Adrian Olsen, Alexandra Spalding, James Mason, and JL Hodges along with multi-instrumentalists Charlie Glenn have known each other for a long time. Even before joining forces as Avers nearly five years ago, the quintet were part of a tight-knit community of musicians. The years on the road cemented their relationships. While there are four individuals crafting music as Avers, they share a common vision, voice, and one would even say the same mind. Their songwriting styles are also similar, opting to focus on the collective instead of individual aspirations, pursuits, and experiences. Their debut album, Empty Light, as such, was surprisingly tight. Their sophomore effort, Omega / Whatever, only further magnifies the chemistry and singularity among the the band’s members.
Central to Omega / Whatever are the themes of growing up, evolving as individuals and a band, and the collective’s perception of the changing world around them. As Olsen told Billboard Magazine, the album is about “the sure footing of adulthood in a shifting culture. These challenges mean different things to any individual, but the shared outcome is to move forward and carry on to try our best hoping for a good outcome.”
The album’s rousing, energetic opener, “Vampire”, is a brilliant introduction to Avers’ holistic approach. An anthemic blend of Americana and rock a la Wilco complete with some Nils Cline-esque guitar work, the track addresses how people change and move on. It also examines how relationships evolve over times and how loneliness can settle in. “I’m not afraid anymore” bellows Olsen, a revealing comment more directed at himself as oppose to the people around him. The same sentiments are heard on “Everything Hz”. This blistering rocker echoes the college rock scene of the mid-90s and early 2000s with its crunchy guitar riffs and blazing hooks, which would fill any venue. Spalding’s vocals, meanwhile, give this high-paced song an icy coolness.
The slower and more intimate numbers are more contemplative and immersive. The soft southern rocker “Insects” leaves one reflecting on her own experiences growing up and making sense of her place in the complicated world. “All You Are” has a sense of foreboding and uncertainty with is heavy and stark rock vibe. The song mirrors the dark and imaginative storytelling of Okkervil River. The title track, meanwhile, creeps slowly along at first before transforming into a War on Drugs-esque number. A sense of vulnerability is felt at the start, but by the end there is a quiet sense of euphoria. The song’s ending reveals an epiphany that we all eventually foresee – a realization of what is truly important and we could give a fuck about everything else.
The rockers, meanwhile, give a “who cares” sentimentality, although that’s far from the case. The slow-building rocker, “Low”, for instance, may be anthemic at the end, but the song reveals the emotional and psychological harm of an abusive relationship. The euphoric conclusion, though, feels like the chains have been broken. The rapturous and moody “Holding On” is an extension to “Low” played over a blend of Wilco-style pacing and U2-style anthemic rock. The delayed guitar sound, in particular, is Edge-esque. “Santa Anna” has a party-rock atmosphere, but it speaks more to the dizzying effect a lover can have on another person. The psychedelic progression perfectly reflects how love and one person can affect our decisions, which are not always made with the best intentions.
For Avers, though, there is barely a misstep on their second record. The collective, with the assistance of producer Peter Kadis (The National, Kurt Vile), have masterfully blended the ideas of five gifted artists into one harmonious and outstanding record. Omega / Whatever, consequently, reveals a band at the top of its game. The greatness of the album gives more credence to its apt title, which symbolizes the band brushing off any notion that they cannot coexist and succeed with multiple songwriters. On the contrary, they have have instead proven that not only can different minds create one awesome record; they can also release an LP that is among the year’s best.
Featured photo by Sarah Walor.
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