Artist: Said the Whale
Album: As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide
Audience: Literally anyone with a radio.
Bottom Line: It’s an album that rewards serious listening while allowing for casual drive-to-the-beach listening at the same time.
Stand Out Songs: It honestly depends on your tastes. The album is so sonically diverse that it’s hard to recommend just a few songs.
Said the Whale: an Album of Many Hats
After the electro-indie saturation of the early 2000s and the so-called honesty of the various iterations of folk music lately (folk rock, folk punk, folk pop, indie folk, lo-fi folk, hi-fi folk) a fair number of bands have turned back to electronic musical composition and are using it as more than just the gimmick du jour. Said the Whale’s latest release, As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide, takes a big step away from their earlier acoustic-pop releases and toward synth-driven electro indie-pop. They’ve managed to make an album that old fans will enjoy while putting together a track list that has something for everyone.
The most interesting thing to me about As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide is just how clearly a listener can pick up on the influences of modern indie-pop bands. Said the Whale has created an album that sounds like a who’s-who of major bands in the era of synth-driven, instrument backed music. “Step Into the Darkness” and “Beautiful Morning” sound vaguely reminiscent of Andrew McMahon’s latest releases. “More than Ever,” “Lilac and Willow,” and “Confidence” seem to channel the same kind of falsetto-led sound that you’d expect from Chvrches. Finally, “I will follow you” sounds oddly similar to something Paramore might have released (especially considering the recent success of “Hard Times”).
On the metaphoric flip-side, “Realize Real Eyes” and “Emily Rose” offer Said the Whale fans a glimpse back into the past. They serve as punctuation marks on the album as a whole. “Realize Real Eyes” lands at track 5 out of 10, placing it right at the end of the A side, a refreshing finale to an unusual mix of heavy lyrics and light, floating musical construction found in the first four tracks. “Emily Rose” sits comfortably as track 9, a soft precursor to the slightly ‘weirder’ sounding “Lilac and Willow” that finishes the album. It’s been said before that the genius of this album is the way that Said the Whale manages to mix up-beat music with emotionally weighty lyrics. “Realize Real Eyes” and “Emily Rose” help to connect the music and lyrics emotionally in a way that helps tie the whole album together.
The bigger accomplishment, I would argue, is how they’ve managed to write an album that so clearly demonstrates how the band has changed without producing a complete break from the tradition their old fan base knows and loves. This kind of incremental development is difficult for any band, especially one that’s consciously creating a new sound after a four-year hiatus. Other bands stumble with the introduction of a new sound (take, for example, the Airborne Toxic Event’s falter after the introduction of pop-country sounds in Such Hot Blood and a lot more synth on Dope Machines) but Said the Whale has managed to pull off an impressive musical feat with As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide. They’ve come back from hiatus a new band, but one that’s so clearly built on their 2013 foundations that old fans are likely to enjoy this album as much as the last. It’s tracks like “Emily Rose” that tie this new Said the Whale to their roots. They provide a bridge between the familiar indie-pop sounds of “Confidence” and the indie/alt-rock that fans probably expected after hawaiii.
Truth be told, I actually quite enjoy the Chainsmoker-like vocally layered, pounding synth driven track “Confidence.” It’s the kind song I can see headlining beach-playlists all summer. If it weren’t immediately followed by “Miscarriage” people might even be tempted to play the album, but the emotional shock of moving from “Confidence” to “Miscarriage” is probably too jarring for casual listening. Putting the album on and listening to it in depth is a rewarding experience, one that let’s fans appreciate the juxtaposition between the up-beat (yet surprisingly non-poppy) sound and the impressively dark lyrics. It’s an odd feature of good music like this that it allows people to listen to it casually, but rewards the people serious enough to devote time, energy, and attention to a complete listen-through.
The bottom line is that the album plays to listeners of all kinds. Want a refreshing summer hit? This album’s got it. Want to feel ~sad~ while you listen to the latest entry into the electro-indie scene? Said the Whale has you covered there too. Want an old-school, Wombats-like, alt-rock jam with a guitar-fronted sound and heavy synth in the background? Just put on “I Will Follow You.” This album runs the risk of being a jack of all trades, but master of none. I think Said the Whale pulls it off though. The direct lyrics really tie together the album in a way that a cursory listen to the instrumentation might not pick up on. In an oddly successful return, Said the Wale made an album to please everyone with As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide.