Dublin quintet Silverbacks smartly and amusingly chronicle life’s uncertainties of the past three years on their sophomore album, ‘Archive Material’.
Everywhere we turn, our lives have been neatly categorized. Providing labels to things helps us organize the stuff we’ve accumulated, determine the value of an object or an individual’s occupation, and hand out awards. For Silverbacks, they’ve been described as a post-punk band since their formation more than a decade ago. The Dublin quintet, however, have quietly protested being pigeonholed, pointing to Television, Neil Young, Weyes Blood, and the Bradford Co-Cate Le Bon collaboration as influences. While their sound is more expansive than just dark, brooding, and propulsive tones, Silverbacks do belong in one category – lyrical anthropologists.
On their debut album, Fad, brothers Daniel (guitar, vocals) and Kilian O’Kelly (guitar, vocals), Emma Hanlon (bass, vocals), Peadar Kearney (guitar), and Gary Wickham (drums) equally looked into the distant past as well as the present to share how the world had changed over a century. Their sophomore output, the aptly-titled Archive Material, though, is planted more in the here and now, as they brilliantly and amusing document life in a surreal, pandemic world.
The album is spearheaded by a five-track attack that would rival the best starts of any LP of the past decade. Opener “Archive Material” perfectly sets the stage. Through an off-kilter, Gang of Four-esque art-punk approach, Daniel describes how expendable people have become. “While digging in the archive / Even death won’t take you back”, he nonchalantly sings as if understanding that this song, too, will one day gather dust.
The plucky and upbeat “A Job Worth Something” sees the band ponder how the value of life has changed very little over the past three years. While millions have died as a result of a pandemic, the almighty dollar – to which the band refer to as “the devil on the beat“ – still reigns. The blistering and jerky energy of “Where My Medals” has Hanlon assume lead vocals. Her intimate and lush voice is the counterweight to the blistering, three-headed guitar siege, which eventually and surprisingly gives way to a flute-driven melody that soothes the nerves after the initial fury. It is the calm before the storm or the realization that you cannot be all things to all people as Hanlon sings:
“I’m the heel to every fight
Blowing kisses to my friends
Hear my deep and raspy voice
And an entrance that kills
Pulled away on the deathbed
Tears for you were never shed”
Cool art-rock vibes à la Parquet Courts buzz through the intelligent “They Were Never Our People”. As the song stutters along with the occasional pause, the band address the growing anti-immigration sentiment across the world. “It’s just another sequel / They were never our people / Let’s head to the joint where the locals don’t point”, Daniel coolly sings about the erection of invisible walls between communities and peoples. Meanwhile, Silverbacks deliver a romp through a gentrifying town on “Rolodex City”. The song is as much about the real estate developer who wants to modernize a neighborhood as it is the residents who want to keep their community grounded. “Slide to the left / Put your foot down”, Emma Hanlon sings, using Tindr as an analogy for people saying enough is enough.
The second half of the album maintains the bombastic energy and insightful observations. With its glam-rock vibes, “Different Kind of Holiday” describes how staycations have become the holiday of choice. The space-rock “Central Tones”, which finishes with a terrific blast of swirling shoegaze guitars, is a story about truths and untruths. “One more swill / Spill the story again / Hoping it would fly / If that’s what it takes to win, takes to win”, Daniel sings, assuming the role of the protagonist. And “the decline of western civilization” is further told on the quirky and groovy indie-rocker, “Econymo”. Whether it’s true or not, some medium is covering someone’s lies.
While some things are made up out thin air, the past also has been a source of inspiration. The buzzing “Recycle Culture”, which echoes Franz Ferdinand, articulates how nostalgia can be comforting no matter how out-of-date something (“an old book” or a “Fawlty manuel”) or someone (“a taboo Tintin”) may be. Although much of Archive Material focuses on how much life has changed, closer “I’m Wild” centers on the constants around us. With a more sensual pop-rock approach and Hanlon at the helm, she warmly sings about the silent connections we have with someone.
“When I look at you deep in the eye
And I whisper to you
When I look at you deep in the eye
And I whisper to you with my smile”
The track is a great ending to a smartly-conceived LP. While we can get lost in all the ills of the world, there are still people and things that give us comfort. Like all the great anthropologists, Silverbacks remind us to not lose sight of this nor of the bigger picture. That is, we still have lives to lead.
Silverbacks are: brothers Daniel (guitar, vocals) and Kilian O’Kelly (guitar, vocals), Emma Hanlon (bass, vocals), Peadar Kearney (guitar), and Gary Wickham (drums).
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