For Fans Of
Either in 2009 or maybe in 2010, housed within a Rock Sound compilation CD, I found a song called ‘Filial’. It was this gripping, explosive five-minute post-hardcore song from a Baltimore band called Pianos Become The Teeth, who in 2009 had dropped their solid, feels-heavy debut full-length, ‘Old Pride’. Their first LP was defined by the insane tension and harrowing story of Multiple Sclerosis in ‘Cripples Can’t Shiver’, the peaceful and beautifully warm instrumental ‘Young Fire’ as well as the aforementioned rager of ‘Filial’. It was a solid record – one that really expanded upon the blueprints set down in 2008’s ‘Saltwater‘ – but it paled in comparison to what came next from this rising band. Pianos Become The Teeth’s second record, 2011’s infallible and career-crushing highlight, ‘The Lack Long After’, was a step up in every possible way and it remains a very special record to say the very least; standing right up there with many other important records from that time for the scene like ‘Wildlife’ or ‘Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me’.
Very few other albums can deliver the sheer emotional impact that sophomore record did, and even fewer bands could summon up such touching and affecting moments yet such frenzied thoughts and feelings like Pianos did with that second release. It’s a record that I truly love, and anecdotally, while the record’s subject matter of losing one’s father wasn’t applicable to me, it helped me find a lot of comfort in the wake of a heavy break up I had at that time in my life. It’s the saddening tale of sickness, failing health, death and heartache the record details that is unmatched in terms of what many of Pianos’ peers can and could do; a powerful work that’s about finding or at least trying to find the time, courage and strength to move on after such a devastating personal tragedy hits. (Much like The Antlers’ brilliant ‘Hospice’ LP, I strongly recommend you never listen to ‘The Lack Long After’ if you’re feeling even remotely depressed – that shit will fuck you up). The band’s immensely bleak lyrics and brutally chaotic emotions were set to the backdrop of an incredibly dire sense of urgency, well-layered and careening mathy instrumentals, and these bright silver lining moments of dynamic serenity. The best extremes of their sound from this earlier, heavier era were summed up so well with the rabid, no-bullshit opener of the now-classic ‘I’ll Be Damned’, other emotionally intense songs like ‘Liquid Courage’ and ‘Such Confidence’, and the thematically heavy gut-punching closer, ‘I’ll Get By’.
‘The Lack Long After’ was quintessentially Pianos Become The Teeth. And I think the group themselves were keenly aware of this fact. Pianos knew they harnessed lighting, but understood they couldn’t make it strike twice, not with the same impact at least. Hence why when 2014 rolled around, they made a hard 180-degree turn into a lusher, far more melodic sound with their third LP, ‘Keep You’; disgruntling many fans with the band ditching their faster, abrasive and heavier elements entirely. They also removed Kyle Durfey’s much-loved screaming from the songwriting equation in favour of his cleaner, softer and more resonating clean vocals, but thankfully not losing any of his soul or poetic sense in that sonic transition. (I like to call this the “Jimmy Stadt Effect”).
But that record’s overall result, while indeed very different in style, was something still of a similar solid quality to its two predecessors. ‘Keep You’ was a quieter, low-key, more delicate but beautifully melancholic record about how death and darkness define us as people; moulding together emotive rock sounds and some very pretty indie vibes with gorgeous tunes like ‘Ripple Water Shine’, ‘Say Nothing‘, and ‘Repine’ still being tear-jerking compositions. Looking at the band’s history is important as in many ways following on from ‘Keep You’, nothing has drastically changed with the band’s sound on their newly released fourth LP, the quite simply stunning ‘Wait For Love’ – it’s all just improved simply put. For what is different is how this blissful new full-length feels like the full realization of that previous release in vision, emotional content, lyricism, and composition; a deeper, wiser, and better progression of what ‘Keep You’ started four years prior. Across these 10 heart-string ripping songs, Pianos create a wonderfully tense and saddening picture of life and love. It’s not lesser than the songs that did just that on old releases ‘Old Pride’ or ‘The Lack Long After’, it’s just done differently now and that’s no bad thing.
The core of ‘Wait For Love’ is this record’s very namesake; the idea that love will, one day, in some way, find you. This really is a love record for those whose who miss their dearly departed loved ones or those who yearn for a loved one’s presence again; meant for those whose love-life is in a dry spell or those who’ve just entered into a blossoming new romance; intended for those whose relationship is currently in shitsville or for those who’ve already said “I do”; written for those who are now expecting and for those who feel the dissonance from a messy split. Just as Durfey put it to once in an interview with Hearwax back in 2010: “I feel like most of us and most bands we are into tend to write about darker things. It’s hard to write when you’re happy. This doesn’t mean we aren’t happy as people.” Yet this new 10-track record, while just as melancholic and as thematically dark as you’d expect from a Pianos Become The Teeth release, also seems to have an actual sense of happiness and contentment to it. There is light here, and a real sense of love present too. Which is all due to the superb songwriting skills this band possesses, how they voice their chords, how they can so carefully convey their thoughts musically, how they utilise deep song textures, how they build and explode massive crescendos, and how they weave their moving lyrical narratives altogether.
For instance, guitarists Mike York and Chad McDonald play off each other so damn well, twirling clean and lightly-distorted riffs across one another’s six-stringed paths, stacking rhythmic strummed parts together and interweaving various licks around each other’s melodies. Adding to the album’s deliciously rich tone is bassist Zac Sewell, whose fuzzy sound and driving bass lines compliment the rest of the band’s playing terrifically so. Durfey’s vocals have not only improved drastically since their last effort but they’re just as beautiful here too. Yet while they do lack a wide range (which I think will lead some to sadly label this record as being monotonous), the authenticity on offer in his vocals and the way they’re written and how they sit with the rest of the band’s chilling but confident sound here is so effective. Which is another thing that Pianos have always been champions at; cohesiveness between all of their various moving parts. Whether that was a whirlwind of anger and energy (‘Old Pride‘,’ The Lack Long After‘) or a calming, contemplative downpour of lush melodies and haunting vocals (‘Keep You‘, this very record) – they nail it!
Alongside Durfey’s poetic lyrics and the exceptional guitar work from McDonald and York, special mention has to go to David Haik, as his stellar drumming is what really sells these songs. His simple but throttling drum grooves in the speedy banger of ‘Charisma’, his constant flowing fills and strong hits in rhythmic opener ‘Fake Lighting’, his off-beat toms and snappy cymbal crashes in the surreal ‘Dry Spells’, his linear and off-beat drumming during the post-rocky dirge of ‘Bay Of Dreams‘ – the dude’s drumming just accentuates this record’s instrumental qualities brilliantly so and he commands these tracks expertly. So much so that it’s fair to say that without his performance behind the kit, a lesser drummer just would’ve dragged this record down or not offered the correct percussive parts that it so desperately called for.
Similarly, this is all something that this scene’s go-to producer/engineer Will Yip has captured wonderfully on this record and it really wouldn’t sound the same without his input. So now, when you pull together the musicianship of all five band members and Yip’s studio help and behind the desk knowledge, you get what makes all great records, well, great: really fucking good songs.
Opener ‘Fake Lighting‘ is this earnest and contemplative piece and a damn fine example of what I said earlier about this record being a full realization of ‘Keep You‘. ‘Charisma‘ will go down in history as one of Pianos greatest songs from their career’s current chapter; the brisk and energetic pace, locked-in rhythms, the soaringly infectious chorus, the heartfelt sound that smothers the track, and that killer accompanying music video all formulate towards one of their best compositions. The boisterous, uplifting and smile-cracking nature of the following song, ‘Bitter Red‘, further capitalises on the momentum and tone of ‘Charisma‘, coupled with an endearing message of meeting that special someone who livens up your world (“Faced with such soft tendency, saved a man withdrawn like me“). The post-rock-centric, atmospheric and apocalyptically gloomy ‘Bay Of Dreams’ is one of the most haunting and cavernous tracks Pianos have ever written (really saying something given their past material), what with its rather creepy mood and booming percussion. Slightly slower and mournful but no less exceptional cuts like ‘Dry Spells‘ and ‘Manila‘ do echo the approach and ethereal sounds of ‘Keep You‘ but in a really solid manner and nor do they come off as filler either. Instrumentally, ‘Bloody Sweat’ sounds like La Dispute circa ‘Wildlife’ with its expressive chords and menacing timbre, but that’s no bad thing as it still slots perfectly within the record’s wider tone. ‘Love On Repeat‘ starts and ends the same musically, but between these two points it slowly ebbs and flows between rising tension, widescreen guitar melodies, and dynamic verses; hinting at something grander boiling beneath the surface. The song’s stripped back bridge of Durfey’s higher pitched vocals and it’s repeating lead guitar melody reveal a darker undercurrent that just erupts gloriously into a dense, angular finale whose payoff is so worth it.
Album closer ‘Blue’ is a transcendental final piece, a curtain-dropping moment that feels like what this record was all building up too since ‘Fake Lighting‘ began the journey 40-minutes earlier. With reverberant and droning guitars fluttering in out and at times just feedbacking away, with mid-tempo drumming and washing cymbal crashes beneath ominous chords, it sets the golden sun on this immaculate record. And man, this track is a heart-ripper and a fucking half, with Durfey addressing his deceased father about the birth of his own son, with lyrics like: “Would you believe it?/I’m a family man now/Here’s your boy’s boy/All blue-eyed and stubborn/I wonder, where’d he get it all from? This sandy honey hair?/This hell of a temper?/I never knew mine/ He’ll never know his/But it’s so good to see you again.” ‘Blue‘, among other definite standouts like ‘Charisma‘, ‘Dry Spells‘ and ‘Bay Of Dreams‘, are the kinds of impeccable musician and honest lyricism that few others can pull off this well. And Pianos Become The Teeth are still the masters at it, to the point where I feel like there’s still so much to talk about regarding this magnificent LP.
Prior to this accomplished record’s release, Durfey penned this piece about the essence of ‘Wait For Love’, and while it’s not necessarily required reading before listening to this record, having full context is always key to understanding a body of work. Because a Pianos Become The Teeth record isn’t written for me nor for you or any other fan reading this review. It can be applied as such, of course, but no – it’s thought and pained over, painstakingly created, meticulously written and eventually released to offer comfort and catharsis for the frontman and the rest of Pianos. And that’s the case here, as this brilliant new record encapsulates the band’s recent melodic, atmospheric turns and their purely evocative story-telling impressively so.
‘Wait For Love’ is a deep, methodical and engrossing listen from start to end. As I spoke of earlier, this is indeed a love record on the surface level, but digging deeper you’ll find that this is really a love letter to Durfey’s wife, his son, his deceased father, his four bandmates, and his musical passions. Yes, this record is musically simplistic in many ways but also quite complex in how all of these pieces then come together. It’s overwhelming joy but biting sadness all wrapped into one juxtaposed whole. Not all records are created equal but not all records are as moving or as grand as ‘Wait For Love’ is. If you give this new Pianos album the effort, time and consideration that it calls for, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best records of 2018.
- Fake Lighting
- Bitter Red
- Dry Spells
- Bay of Dreams
- Forever Sound
- Bloody Sweet
- Love on Repeat
‘Wait For Love’ is out now. I love this record and I hope you do too – please listen to it. Watch Pianos Become The Teeth and director Michael Parks Randa tell a beautiful story of longed-for-love with the following three amazing music videos: