11 February 2021 (released)
19 March 2021
As we pass the anniversary of the lockdown in North America, the albums created in the isolation times are now surfacing. Some are experiments of where a creative process without live feedback will get you, showcasing an artist's more untamed creative expressions. Others broach the subject of the last year directly, delving into the emotions and consequences of having our lives changed in a way that none of us had really experienced before.
The music of longtime collaborators Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz is naturally suited for these times. Their songs of yearning and contemplation perfectly match the mood of the last year. Of looking longingly out the window, wondering what's coming next and who we'll be sharing that with. Sirens Go By (Songs in the time of Coronavirus: Songs 2-9) is the second instalment in a four-part series that began with the December 2020 single 'Careful Now My Son' and will continue this year with the EP Stuck Inside and the LP Variant Blues coming later this year. This prolific partnership has put together a compendium of songs that describe what life was like over the last year from their perch in California. Sirens Go By is sleepy but restless, drenched in dreamy reverb and guided by the rounded falsetto of Anders, whose voice recalls Bon Iver's Justin Vernon mixed with the heartier croon of Nick Drake.
'A Love So So' opens the album with a sauntering ode to a passionate love losing its flame. Anders voices it with a sliver of regret but mainly an acquiescence to the fall from paradise. O'Bitz backs him with an understated mix of guitar and piano to grant the focus to Anders's story. 'Twilight's Last Gleaming' features a rapidly picked rolling acoustic guitar from O'Bitz not unlike the haunting guitar to Tom Petty deep cut 'Don't Fade on Me' from the Wildflowers album. Weary lyrics of the fading of America's light echo the sentiment of year when the nation's faith in itself in the face of multiple crises was shaken to its core.
The final trio of tracks perhaps most closely examines the effects of the pandemic on our society. O'Bitz piano/guitar combo is joined by organ to lightly lift the song into gospel territory. Anders explores the double-edged sword of belief when faced with oblivion in 'The Great Unknown'. In the chorus, he waxes: “We know that hope would calm the fright/Breaking at this fork in the road/Also that hope is needed to fight/We know that hope won't cure the blight/Heading for the Great Unknown/Need more than hope in order to fight”. 'Sirens Go By' tackles the anxious hopelessness that many felt being trapped inside with little grasp on what it was that was attacking us. Anders keeps count of the days under glass as health worries overrun the mind. The only sounds coming from the once-bustling streets are the ambulance sirens, giving a frequent reminder of our looming predicament. The closer 'We Sing Goodbye' takes a moment to acknowledge all the goodbyes of the past year in a sort of collective memorial.
Hearing Anders and O'Bitz reflections on the year of Coronavirus is a chilling time capsule of a period that gave us all a shared experience apart. A time that we will all reflect on and use as a touchstone for the rest of our lives. The duo's songs emit a warm familiarity and give a tangibility to the oddness that was the year 2020.