Brooklyn based Augustines have a reputation for intense, crowd involved, live performances and the trio of Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson, and Rob Allen, are experiencing a burgeoning popularity. So, it is hardly surprising that the group – formed in 2010 after McCarthy and Sanderson’s former group, Pela, disbanded – has angled their third album, This Is Your Life, to build on these facts. This Is Your Life is a grand sounding album – frequently at its own expense – which seeks to provide new material to stoke the audiences’ energy at shows, and to ensure that those audiences fill ever larger venues.
Not content with grandiose production alone – the drums are big, the beats are strong, and the feelings are palpable – the group made their music video for lead single, Are We Alive?, an homage to Jeffrey “Big Jeff” Johns, who is a minor celebrity in Bristol for his constant presence at the city’s concerts. Couple this nod to the fans with the song’s pounding drums, anthemic build, and clap-like percussion, and it is clear Augustines are focusing their music on the live audience. Second single, When Things Fall Apart, features touches of Mogwai’s synth sound and ultimately proves to be a decent amalgam of indie and electro sounds. By the end I was left thinking of U2, and that the pre-chorus and chorus sonically shifts in an unexpected direction proves that Augustines do, in fact, have chops.
Three tracks in with The Forgotten Way Revised, and the album’s cracks start to appear. The inclusion of a string section makes the track feel overblown and bloated with self-regard. May You Keep Well is a reasonable indie-folk song… as it would have been written by a cocaine fuelled studio executive in Los Angeles sometime in the ‘80s. The echoing electronic drumbeat throughout, and the world music touches at the end, demonstrate that the band is willing to push the boundaries of what is expected – but to what end? That Hold Me Loneliness’s guitar riff is mimicked by a brass section is interesting and cute, but the addition of strings takes it over the top. Running In Place feels far longer than a song under 4 minutes has any right to, although the tonal texture of harmonica on the track is welcome but not enough to rouse interest.
Overall This Is Your Life feels like an album written by those daydreaming of playing to packed arenas, driven by bombast. This is somewhat understandable for a band of Augustines’ live reputation, and they can play and write a good tune, but This Is Your Life ends up too packed with grand gestures which just don’t gel with the sound of a band clearly most comfortable at an intimate distance to their fans. For a band willing to push boundaries and take risks, Augustines missed an opportunity in not recording This Is Your Life as a live album – à la MC5’s Kick Out The Jams – as with an audience feeding energy back to the band and taking up the repeated refrains of No Need To Explain and This Is Your Life, the album might have been able to bear the grand motifs Augustines have included.