CD Review: Overseas “Overseas”
There’s an unmissable serendipity blanketing the ten songs that comprise the debut LP from Overseas, a collaboration between music heavyweights Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones), and brothers Matt Kadane and Bubba Kadane (The New Year, Bedhead). Although serendipity, a word wholly contingent upon luck, would seem to belittle the years of effort, certain compromise, and decades-long careers of toil, sweat, and talent involved, it’s tough to overlook that something extra special hangs in the air with the music of Overseas.
The roots of the musical collaboration date back to 2009, when Johnson and Bazan joined together to create music in the wake of close friend Vic Chesnutt’s tragic death. Ties within Overseas stretch back even further than that, with Johnson and Bazan each having enjoyed some form of musical partnership with the Kadanes for more than a decade. The outfit initially sought to release a 7″ record or maybe an EP, but, to our good fortune, their work off and on over the span of several years yielded enough songs for a full-length record.
Although the union of such talent is an undeniable blessing in many respects, the enduring personalities and work ethics etched into the grooves of this record are the antithesis of pure happenstance. Overseas is the sound of visceral, workingman’s wonder – open-hearted, anti-heroic and pensive rock with such transparent soul that every song feels like a correspondence from an old friend set to music beneath the endless Texas night sky.
Hardship and beauty are not mutually exclusive, and rarely do you encounter music that drives that revelation home as often as the songs of Bazan, Johnson and the Kadanes do. Marital strife and lustful nostalgia (“Old Love”), wrestling with God (“HELLP,” “Lights Are Gonna Fall,” “Came With The Frame”), lovesick pangs of life on the road (“Here (Wish You Were)”), and personal demons (“Came With The Frame,” “Ghost To Be,” “Old Love”) are as present as ever, and all of it is delivered with dirt-under-fingernails grit and honesty.
Overseas’ music fleshes out the lyrical intensity with mastered precision. It’s a record that broods and blasts in all the right moments, sometimes separated like disheartened lovers, often in exhilarating accord. At heart, Overseas is a rock and roll band with instruments changing hands from song to song, each arrangement realized with a lifer’s understanding of what best suits a song while intuitive restraint allows the weight to sink in regardless of tempo. “Redback Strike” rips through the speakers with strapping rhythmic muscle and knifing guitars in a composition that wouldn’t feel out of place on a record from fellow Texan greats Explosions in the Sky. Overseas lace up and set their sights for the heavens with a blissful squall of rock and roll release on Side Two gems “The Sound of Giving Way” and “Down Below,” the feral heart of the latter cemented with the harmonized howl “You’re sleeping with an animal! / And I know that you know / If anybody’s listening / Hello from down below.”
The duality of lyrical pain and melodic pleasure has long been at the core of each man’s finest work. It’s what will make Overseas an engrossing listen for any newcomers, and it makes the record an essential addition for fans already won over through already impressive careers of seemingly endless touring and consistently strong albums.
No man here takes ownership of individual lyrics or music. Everything is credited to Overseas, and the record is a true collaboration of four equals (plus engineer and The Echo Lab partner Matt Barnhart, who Bazan calls the fifth member of Overseas).
The lone stipulation agreed upon at the outset was Johnson and Bazan, with their powerful, distinct voices, would handle all the singing duties. They share the mic equally – each man takes lead on five of the album’s ten songs – and many of the record’s most sublime moments occur when those commanding voices harmonize ( “Came With The Frame,” the soaring chorus of “Down Below,” the gorgeous closing track “All Your Own”). The result often feels like an expertly choreographed dance; Johnson’s beautifully textured croon and sung-out refrains provide glimpses of hard-won truths before slipping away just of out reach into a captivating haze, while Bazan’s voice rises up and grabs you by throat, never mincing words and making certain every line resonates. The allure in tandem equates to a cycle of captivated chasing and flat-footed awe, while all along the band’s dynamic arrangements wash over you and keeping you coming back to the dance floor.
Overseas is a thoughtful record full of mature insight and passion from a collaboration between several our finest musical healers. It’s the sound of a like-minded team in fearless pursuit of honest emotion while not shying away from letting loose to satisfy a communal love of rock and roll. The longer you live with Overseas, the more you’ll come to realize the only things missing are ego and pretense, and such is a blessing that should never be taken lightly.
Video: Overseas – “Ghost To Be”
Overseas – “Down Below”
Overseas – “Old Love”
*Grab a free download of “Old Love” via Rolling Stone.
**This review first appeared on Division St. Harmony on June 23, 2013.
Justin is a featured contributor to No Depression, and he resides on the outskirts of Indianapolis in Noblesville, Indiana. He writes his own music blog Division St. Harmony (@DivisnStHarmony), and he has been a senior contributor to The Silver Tongue and Laundromatinee.
Justin has an affinity for writing and music that is both rich in head and heart. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @clashrebel & @DivisnStHarmony and on Facebook.