You can see Sylmar perform this Friday, November 9, at WMSR Redhawk Radio’s third annual Cold Snap concert at Kofenya, 6-10pm.
Sylmar’s self-titled album is an emotional, lyrical, and instrumental exploration of heartbreak and forced optimism. The jazz-indie band plays with the constraints of tone and meaning throughout their eight-song album. Upbeat, lighthearted-sounding melodies mingle with self-deprecating lyrics; oftentimes, the two disjointed aspects collide towards the climax of the song, as Brian McCullough screams out oft-repeated refrains with genuine emotion. Every song on the album is truly an emotionally intriguing experience.
The album begins with a song titled “I Love Everything.” Its jazzy, carefree tone functions as a façade for the underlying issues that the singer faces, as well as the issues that exist within America’s current culture. The song’s tumultuous and contradicting joy works as a critique of how we push terrible and traumatic things under the rug in order to be perceived as happier than we are. In this sense, “I Love Everything” works fantastically as a prelude for the conflicting tone and meaning that retains throughout the album.
“I Can’t Read” and “Honey” follow after, offering conflicting perspectives of how anxiety functions in relationships. The former includes McCullough desperately repeating “open up for me,” begging the person he’s addressing to communicate with him about the things he cannot understand in their relationship. “Honey” works as a quiet attempt at quelling his fears, saying that while their relationship “tastes so sweet” and yet, as in “I Love Everything,” his attempts to force happiness does not succeed in making him forget all of the troubles he holds within himself.
I think my favorite song of the album is “Even Now,” a soft lament about the struggles of seeing an old lover on the streets and dealing with the emotions that one still faces when they run into someone they used to know painfully well. McCullough’s yearning voice asserts, “Even now I’ll be waiting around / Even now I try, ‘cuz I still like passing you by.” As the song progresses, he recognizes that the relationship was not healthy, and yet he still feels the loss of it deeply. It’s a quietly heartbreaking song, and it works so well within the more instrumentally heavy songs.
The next two songs, “Waste Away” and “Punk Song” are the most disjointedly appealing beats of the album. “Waste Away” differs from the more romantically focused subjects by discussing the way we act in today’s broken society: “We spend an hour on a minute’s work just to feel overcommitted / What a way to waste away.” For me, “Punk Song” feels less interesting when following the fascinating subject of “Waste Away.” It sounds more-or-less exactly like what you’d expect it to be given its title, but I will say that the ending was unexpectedly great. McCullough breaks away from the typical endings of the songs by essentially screaming out in a desperate display of deceptive apathy.
“Whatever” works as a more toned down interlude after the two heavily paced songs before it, but its rapid changes in tempo and excitement levels still offers an interesting preclude to the last song, “Slope.” The final song begins with a somber subject; a broken relationship where both subjects “let the silence speak.” However, where the rest of the songs typically speed up after their more depressing openers, “Slope” maintains its heartbroken tone throughout the song, until its somber ending lyrics: “There’s a creeping feeling that it’s not okay.”
This melancholic finish, with McCullough’s beautifully expressive voice, makes you think of the album in a new light once it’s over. We see the embellishing melodies for the rest of the songs as what they are: a cover for the underlying sadness and heartbreak that haunts us in every aspect of our lives and society. Sylmar is performing at Cold Snap, Redhawk Radio’s third annual concert at Kofenya this Friday. Personally, I can’t wait to see how a performative aspect adds to the complexities of Sylmar’s beautifully and tragically captivating messages.