Be Still My Beating
Michael R. Sanchez / Microphone, guitar, programming, harmonica, broom Victor Mance / Bass, piano James Reinhold / Drums, organ Ethan Jones / Harmonics, bass, piano Chris Zasche / Pedal steel Rachel Sanchez / Microphone Alice Tippit / Water jar ... 'Chicago's space-pop duo The Way It Is crafts delicate, up-front, stripped-down nuggets of catchy guitar chords and infectious keyboard stings.' The Onion A.V. Club ... Be Still My Beating by The Way It Is The first time I heard Be Still My Beating I didn't like it. I would have trashed it with so many other half-listened to promos if weren't for the efforts of singer/songwriter Michael Sanchez. He's poured his heart into The Way It Is and, save for a revolving cast of keyboardists and drummers here and there, has been the driving force of the project since 2003. It took him four emails and a phone call for me to finally agree to another listen and I must say, I'm not quite sure where my mind was the first time around. Admittedly, I was dealing with a lot of shit at the time, but to be honest, I just get too many CDs every week to warrant actually sitting down and listening to all of them. They all begin to sound the same (to be even more honest) and it can pretty f***ing overwhelming, not to mention slightly depressing. Luckily, every once in a while I come across an undiscovered gem that truly alters my musical landscape. It happened with Matt Pond, PA. It happened again with The Concretes. And now once more with The Way It Is. On second listen, Be Still My Beating really gave me the chance to hear and understand where this band is moving. The songs are well crafted and arranged and I am constantly surprised by the ever-changing direction each track evolves in as the album progresses. We start off with Fell in Love with a Car Bomber, one of Michael's signature tracks. A lone bass drum kicks the song off then guitar and vocals emerge with a fascinating melody. Organs pop in a few measures later bringing in the hook that defines this track and leads us into one the lushest choruses I've heard in a long time, revealing layer after layer of electric piano and bassy organs. Mr. Sanchez has a playful vocal style, often speeding and slowing his lines in syncopation for maximum pop effect. The last notes in Car Bomber become the first notes in 8th Grade, a track that touches on the preteen angst of grade school cliques and lunchroom romance. Multiple harmonies hang on a single acoustic guitar, swinging back and forth like a dull middle school memory. Under everything there is a muted piano, flirting jauntily in and out of the arrangement from a far away room. Continuing with the meloncholy stirrings of 8th Grade is It Was Over, a track brutally celebrating the end of a failed relationship and the empty promises that doomed it's participants. A single piano line is accompanied by whispering vocals until midway through the song when a string quartet is also unleashed in an exquisite attempt to take us further into the belly of this bitter beast. The band then kicks it up with the very catchy At the Party, a uniquely arranged piece that showcases the vintage piano and electronic drum sound I'm beginning to identify as the poppy side of The Way It Is. More important is the vocal approach of Michael Sanchez on this track. He wanes and weaves, bitter and sweet, with such unique phrasing and timber, I wonder if the song wasn't just created to exhibit this. The next song, In a strange place, with it's sparse arrangement and woeful tone, evokes the more intimate work of the late Elliott Smith as Michael's gorgeous harmonies chronicle the effects of moving to a new city on the heart and brain. She likes to get high and Sixteen are actually two parts of the same song and although they may be the weakest links on the album they are still miles above the average rock outfit's efforts. David Bazan and GBV seem to take influence over these tracks as a teenage girl and her father learn to deal with the agony of growing up and apart. Bonny Prince Billy might've taken hand in the music for What will we do? a meditative inquiry into our hapless reliance on cities as a means for cultural and spiritual significance. Over layers of guitar, Michael sings, 'I'll be Huck Finn and you'll be Tom Sawyer, we'll go and have adventures together, but what will we do when this city burns down?' Bridle is by far the rockiest track here, finding the band at it's fullest incarnation with drums, piano, bass, guitar and organs as Michael croons about the realization of regret and vice as he likens them to breaking horses at a rodeo. An almost Beatles-esque display of melody and lyrics make-up I hate music, a well-written and solidly executed description of aging hipsters on the way home from a show. Electronic beats and organs give way to a crescendo of analog drums and distorted guitars as Michael intones the chorus/mantra 'I hate music' over and over until the song comes full circle to a final, hushed climax. Then, just when you've relaxed a bit, The Way It Is returns once more with an unlisted finale. As almost an after thought, we hear Michael count in and the band commences with a song nothing like what we've heard thus far. Some might say "country" while others say "alt", but what we have here is a gorgeous, steel guitar-laden track worthy of the first half of the record, performed by a band more than capable of stretching it's sound like sonic chameleons. Surprisingly, Michael takes one step to the rear on this number to sing backup for his sister Rachel, whose voice alone proves the old idiom 'There's more where that came from...'. This is the longest track on the album and quite possibly my favorite, a perfect end to an almost perfect release. 8 out of 10 T. Quimby - AM/FM.