Whenever the Kadane brothers blow into town it’s a certainty that you’re in for a musical experience destined to tug on both your mind and soul. They have pulled up in front of the saloon with their first new full-length with their band The New Year in three years and it feels like they never left. Maintaining many of the same structures and themes that made their previous band Bedhead such a cult success in the 1990s, The New Year’s sophomore release The End is Near finds the band delving further into the musical molasses that made their debut Newness Ends such a grassroots hit. Their arrangements have slowed since their debut taking on more of the sticky sweet pace that made a name for Bedhead, while the lyrics detail internal struggles to cope with the mundane decisions of daily life. The End Is Near is in no way a departure for The New Year, instead the band has nestled itself further inside it’s trademark sound and is expanding outwards to create a suitably rich and textured album.
From the opening piano chords of “The End Is Not Near” it is clear that we’ve been welcomed back into the same Technicolor haze of the debut. Bubba and Matt Kadane’s guitar interplay is expertly planned to create a delicate wall of clean electric guitar with subtle overtones of distorted guitar folding in and out of the mix. The vocals are monotone and mellow but real emotion seeps through the collected cool as Kadane pronounces the end of days couplet, “The end’s not near/ It’s here.”
Both “Sinking Ship” and “Chinese Handcuffs” are rave-ups by New Year standards. The drumming of former Come skins man Chris Brokaw anchors the shambling beat of “Sinking Ship” to the fractured acoustic guitar that flits in the background. The track wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Sparklehorse’s It’s a Wonderful Life as Kadane uses searing psychedelic imagery similar to Mark Linkous’ as he drops the line “I just wanna get outta here/ And unhook my smile from my ears.” Former Saturnine bassist Mike Donofrio lays down a heavy groove as the foundation for the seething “Chinese Handcuffs”. A full band roar explodes out of the choruses in an unexpected minor key rage that illustrates an outstanding command of the emo quiet-loud dynamics. These two tracks showcase the ability of The New Year to utilize a variety of arrangements in their band line-up to stunning effect.
On “Plan B”, perhaps the finest track on the album, Kadane sounds like the lovechild of Stephen Malkmus and Leonard Cohen. He emotes like a disenchanted coffeehouse clerk who just served his hundredth half-caff cappuccino of the day, voice shaking with pent up rage and a symbiotic caffeine kick that splays itself across the song. The band shimmers and shines in a rare up-tempo showing that recalls the title track from their debut album. College radio best keeps its ears open for this one.
“Disease” carries the rage into a slightly more dirge-like direction with a venomous take on the nature of a God that would bring death and suffering into the world. The epic eight-minute “18” is more of a slow burn. It builds from gently strummed clean electric guitars into a full band arrangement before Kadane gives up the ghost and starts singing at the three-minute mark. The song continues in the same direction adding washes of guitar leads and a rock steady performance from the rhythm section, revealing The New Year’s debt to slow-core luminaries Galaxie 500.
Is it wrong to say a pioneer cannot walk the same path twice? We all herald the arrival of a new man on the moon as if it’s the second coming of Neil Armstrong. Music fans and critics alike are quick to pass off this sort of second pass as a rehash or a re-warmed version of the original. In the case of The New Year’s second album The End is Near, the band has returned to their winning formula to correct their past mistakes and provide an appreciated update on the ideas outlined in their debut. Despite the sonic and lyrical similarity to Newness Ends, the band has met the challenge head-on and crafted an exquisite album that stands above its dour title and outlook.
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