When life is at its lowest, you can usually count on someone to offer that reassuring decree: Crisis builds character. Yeah, try telling that to the girl whose glasses were broken in half because some playground Marquis de Sade whacked her in the face with a kickball. But enough about me. On their unjustly overlooked, self-titled debut, Now It's Overhead sang about kids who toughed out some real personality accelerants. Theirs was an adolescence interrupted by molestation, heartache, and even a coma or two. With frontman and producer Andy LeMaster in charge, songs faded in and out like memories, their psychiatrist-couch sing-alongs staying just long enough to unsettle the present before slipping back into the unconscious.
In many ways, Fall Back Open feels like the sequel to that saga. Putting behind past trauma, LeMaster translates a young adult's lack of direction into darkly beautiful pop. Azure Ray's Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink once again paint the background with their ethereal voices. The songs are less haunting but still dream-like, particularly on the title track's rolling waves of chorus and strings.
It's no coincidence that the Athens, Ga., group's unapologetically serious sound resembles that of the town's most famous export, Michael Stipe. When the R.E.M. singer briefly lends his background vocals to "Antidote," he does so in the service of LeMaster's own coming-of-age. And when the two cry, "Antidote/Break open truth/Word for word," they're equals. Stipe's early-'80s feminine locks grow back, and suddenly he and LeMaster are just two college kids pissed off at the world.
What's now missing from those songs is LeMaster's knack for enigmatic storytelling. The most narration we're offered is in the Depeche Mode-influenced "Profile," a forgettable personal ad complete with an "ideal hot list." After LeMaster tackled the issue of sexual abuse so elegantly on the first album, writing about the online lust of a lonely raver seems beneath him. Not that all of his songs should deal with major traumatic incidents, but hearing him sing about such trite subjects is kind of like watching an Oscar-winner shilling potato chips. Although the music is gorgeous, the lyrical details feel unimportant. Ambiguous angst is a hard sell for an audience old enough to live on their own. No one wants to read your gothic high school poetry; tell them why you wrote it and maybe you've got something.
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