Bleachers 2024
Photo: Alex Lockett / Huxley

Jack Antonoff Searches for Bleachers on ‘Bleachers’

Bleachers finds its primary strength in its serenity. Gentle moments of introspection about love’s redemptive power illuminate some of the brightest moments.

Dirty Hit
8 March 2024

Whether or not someone knows who Jack Antonoff is could be a fair litmus test of that person’s familiarity with the current landscape of pop music. As a frequent co-writer and producer for megastars like Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde, not to mention winner of the award for Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) at the Grammy’s for a dominating three years in a row, even if you couldn’t pick Antonoff’s curly-headed, bespectacled visage out of a lineup, you’ve still certainly heard the subtly complex but ultimately easy-listening pop that he’s helped perpetuate throughout the mainstream in the past decade. But now, with his fourth project from a band that feels more like a solo project, Antonoff offers Bleachers. The choice to release a self-titled record this late in one’s career suggests a methodical journey inspired by a deliberate search for identity outside of collaboration.

In this fourth album as Bleachers, Antonoff settles further into a cohesive sense of artistry without definitively reaching a clear resolution. If this feels somewhat true to many of life’s journeys, this could be all the more intentional. Bleachers doesn’t spend much of its time reaching for the pop-mega hits like those Antonoff has been a part of. Instead, this record, far more than any of Bleachers’ previous ones, appears at ease, exploring the complications of a seemingly quiet moment without feeling too understated. Though it tends to hit specific beats with a frequency that leaves them feeling lackluster, its reach into newer, more mature territory is refreshing.

As with every track Antonoff touches, his fingerprints are clearly traceable here. Still, the musicianship of his five-piece band is as much a part of Bleachers’ signature sound as Antonoff’s obsession with all things Bruce Springsteen, a fellow Jersey native who also wears his hometown on his sleeve and whom Antonoff has proclaimed as his idol many times. While their previous album, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night, was primarily inspired by a desire to play music live during lockdown, there is a more pronounced sense of relaxation on Bleachers, suggesting a band getting back in the swing of things. The resultant tracks feel infused with a groove reminiscent of other indie-pop artists like Rostam or Clairo, the latter of whom is another collaborator of Antonoff’s. 

Nostalgia has always been a fueling force for all of Bleachers’ work — previous albums have focused intensely on the childhood trauma of Antonoff’s sister dying at age 13 when he was a senior in high school or the fallout of romantic relationships. This self-titled release is no different in its retrospective gaze. The very first line of the opening track, “I Am Right on Time”, declares, “We were just kids; it wasn’t over when it ended.” Immediately, the record thrusts forward its double-edged sword: even after things are over, the changes they render in us are carried forward indefinitely.

Childhood isn’t the only image flashing through the record as repetitively as signs for Wawas off the Jersey Turnpike: motifs of faith and small towns, two Bleachers staples, make frequent appearances here too, as does the word “wire”, which pops up seven times across five songs. In “We Are Going to Know Each Other Forever”, Antonoff delivers the recurring lines “This one’s for the lonely, the tired on a wire, the born strange desired” over low, distorted synths which sparsely populate the space around his increasingly agitated voice.

The playful namedrop of his first record as Bleachers, is a wink characteristic of Antonoff: even as he is writing music about looking back at his life, he is also looking back at the parts of his life where he made other music looking back at his life. The track evokes heartfelt confessions given over blaring peals of local radio during late-night drives through your small hometown. (Bonus points if, like Antonoff, it’s in the Garden State.) The song weaves together emotional threads that form the album’s crux: how can you honor the past when whatever choices you make will inevitably carry you relentlessly further from it?

But at times, certain strains of nostalgia threaten to be overpowering. Sometimes, this is an issue of sonics, as on album closer “The Waiter”, which demonstrates an overreliance on Auto-Tune, regrettably reminiscent of more juvenile tracks like “Some Nights” from one of Antonoff’s earlier bands, fun. Other times, the saccharine sentimentality comes through lyrically, as when Antonoff sings, “So tell me why you left, and I’ll tell you why I couldn’t, and how I froze in time.” By this reviewer’s tally, the total of every mention on Bleachers of childhood, youth, kids, or teenage years comes out to a dozen.

Still, Bleachers takes steps, stuttering though they may be, towards a more cohesive identity as a band. This record feels less bogged down than its predecessors by glaringly forced attempts at stadium-swelling pop hits better suited for collaborators like Swift. (“Modern Girl”, the album’s lead single, is a notable exception to this, but even the song’s move into a classic Bleachers horn-tinged jam sesh rather than reaching for a more radio-friendly bridge is a nod towards Antonoff’s sharpening sensibility of what Bleachers is and is not.)

Instead, Bleachers finds its primary strength in its serenity. Gentle moments of introspection regarding the redemptive power of love illuminate some of the record’s brightest moments, such as “Me Before You” or “Alma Mater”, featuring Lana Del Rey. “Isimo”, perhaps the project’s strongest track, suggests two lovers so thoroughly invested in one another’s origins and futures that they function as two parts of one larger story.

“My loss is always on my mind,” Antonoff admits on “Woke Up Today,” a stripped-back, echoey number. This fact is glaringly obvious to anyone who has listened to any amount of Bleachers music. Still, there’s a certain poignancy to hearing him lay it out so plainly. Something about this surrender is what makes Bleachers’ self-titled album their most cohesive project to date.

RATING 7 / 10