Baggage Room Records (label)
13 November 2021 (released)
10 December 2021
When historians look back on this period of music history, it will certainly be regarded as a high watermark for songs about isolation. Beyond the daily fracas of variants and mandates, closures and economic consequences, the tale of 2020 and 2021 will be about how we all were forced to come to terms with isolation. Sure, we have the internet now. We are consistently interconnected far more than we would be during the Spanish Flu a century ago. However, the repercussions of this widely distorted form of communication have reverberated through every facet of society. The idea of “whatever doesn't kill you, simply makes you...stranger” has taken hold and we are stuck living in a very bizarre, troubling timeline.
Songwriters Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz craft a penetratingly perceptive form of indie/Americana/folk that highlights their masterful prowess as singer-songwriters. 2019's Ghosts of Ancestors is a haunting collection of brilliantly presented tracks that will have you coming back again and again. Their signature sound of soulful howl paired with expertly produced, tone-rich instrumentation is arresting and often uses eloquent turns of phrase to reinforce Anders' hypnotic voice.
Anders' work stretches back to 2003 and while his partnership with O'Bitz is relatively new (they began to work together in 2018), the duo have released five albums, an EP, and three singles, with another album on the way. The latest string of albums is part of their Music in the Time of Coronavirus series which they largely conceived of and recorded in isolation during the lockdowns. When possible, the duo joins the rest of their band to record in the studio in San Diego. STUCK INSIDE was a poignant title during its conception as we were all locked down but Anders initially wanted to scrap it for something more au courant once the world started to open up again. However, upon further examination, he saw a society chronically stuck inside itself. Wrapped up in all the narcissism, commodity fetishism, and uninformed mania that has arisen out of this trying time. People's true colours show when faced with a crisis and we lost our collective minds.
In this chapter of Music in the Time of Coronavirus, they face the straining aspects of a prolonged war against an intangible enemy while getting markedly frustrated and alienated. The opener 'Morton's Pillory Plea' is a track that highlights how the old demons of history keep returning to wreak havoc in new insidious ways. The song was inspired by a New York Review of Books review essay by Christopher Benfey called 'Pranksters and Puritans'. The essay explores the deluded dogmatic thinking of the puritans and how their unhinged, conspiracy-riddled beliefs led to violence, division, and what would become the inherited trauma of a nation. Anders makes the parallels between the church burning religious fanatics of old and the QAnon following insurrectionists of today. The song has a captivating tom rhythm and held piano chords that evoke slow-motion images of newsreel strife. Anders sardonically croons “I don’t dare question any of their faith/I don’t dare as they pillory me to waste/I don’t dare fight your princes of limbo/I don’t dare make this colony my foe”. The prospect of fighting a rabid animal that is so wound up that it can not see what it's doing. A powerful commentary on what will be looked back on as some of America's darker days.
There are many affecting tracks on the new record. 'This Bird Don't Fly' is a piano-centric piece with gorgeous complementary atmospherics. It may be an odd comparison but Anders vocals recall Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno's melodic hooks from their latest record, Ohms. Mournful yet obstinate. 'Lost at Sea' goes further out, beyond the obvious frustrations of being cut off from friends, family, and the world. It dives into the mental toll that prolonged isolation can have. Taking the form of a slow blues, Anders sings through the disjointed effect of a blowhorn to further reflect the estrangement caused by distancing for long periods. His uncertainty of how to act anymore is a feeling that can be felt by everyone after the last two years.
The title track saunters listlessly with O'Bitz's guitars fizzling out like distant descending fireworks. Anders pines over his captivity, close enough to hear life going on around him but unable to reach out. The closer 'Small World Abide' is an allusion to one of Anders biggest songs 'Big World Abide' (2006). This track which almost became the title track picks up the energy for one last cornered outburst. Anders unleashes his discontent with the state of the world in an outpouring that shows the soft-spoken singer breaking his consistently cool demeanour.
In a year that will see many meditations on isolation as well as many political commentaries on the ramifications of this inflammatory year, STUCK INSIDE is one of the most well-written and poignant. O'Bitz and Anders have perfected their songwriting relationship to a point where the songs seem to come fast and easy. Let's see what the next chapter Variant Blues has to offer.