MOVING TO Tooth & Nail was good for Copeland. After the jumble and crumble between Milita and their very short time at Columbia, it was a race against the clock to avoid becoming damaged goods. They had outgrown their tenure as Militia’s flagship act, and were in need of some rebranding, some buzz, and some change.
It was, however, a terrible PR move for their image as “not a Christian band.”
For some reason Christians have always taken a liking to Copeland. Coming from the same streets of Florida as Xtian supergroups like Anberlin and Underoath, lending vocals to their albums, playing at Cornerstone (God’s favorite music festival), and helping put a vaguely sort of Christian-ish record label on the map, I guess its no real surprise why. Add to that the recurring yet subtle lyrical themes of love, loss, redemption, and healing, and you’ve got a case for a faith based fan-base.
It’s possible that I was a tad harsh on Copeland the last time around. I don’t take back the 5.2, but I would like to retroactively attribute a small portion of that grade to B-sides in general. It’s hard enough for the most prolific authors to market their leftovers, let alone someone like Aaron Marsh who has actually said that he is not prolific, and that almost every song he writes ends up on a Copeland record. Whether or not he popularizes his interesting, unromantic artistic process, this latest batch of un-prolific songs hints at new artistic objectives, without really reaching for anything in particular.
The sunshine in question on You Are My Sunshine hasn’t really set since we last listened, slept, and repeated. It’s warm in all the same ways, bright in all the same places, and trickles into the shadows with all the same meandering subtlety. It could be way too easy to stay curled in a ball under the window, like a cat in midday, in the same place as before, moving only a few inches in two years to what is essentially the same “indie” pop we’ve been offered before. It’s the least we’ve seen them grow from one album to another. Not necessarily a detriment, since they’ve clearly found their stride, and aren’t eager to fix what (although sometimes a little dull) is most definitely not broke.
As always, the melodies and (especially) harmonies are in a league of their own. Marsh has almost always filled his quiver with only the best melodic arrows, surrounded by fletchings of simplicity and candor. Hand in hand with such a blessing, we find their biggest curses. Forgettable, sometimes sub-par lyrics, and an imbalance of pop falsetto that would cause Tiny Tim to tiptoe through the tulips with a raised eyebrow. It is sort of a foray into the best and most boring moments of their predecessor, trying at times too hard to sound like all of their favorite Radiohead songs at the same time. Funny, since (save for a few guitar tones, drums, and loops) there’s nothing really Radiohead about it.
“Good Morning Fire Eater,” with its mid-90’s brit-rock looplike drums, its fuzzy synth solo, and whirly keyboards, reveals the sleeves on which Marsh’s obsession with the Cardigans has always been worn, but not been as obvious. At one point I’m convinced that the line “I’m afraid you’ve stopped to lick your wounds” becomes “Love me love me, say that you love me,” between the computer and my ears. I’m of course, mistaken More than once vocals change from Marsh’s ambiguously Imogen-produced coo to that of guest Rae Cassidy so smoothly that they overlap shades of one another, prompting passive listeners to possibly rewind and pinpoint when and where the sleight-of-hand took place.
Those same Imogen harmonies are precise enough at times that I’m tempted to impute the crime of Auto-Tune. That cardinal sin of indie rock, made popular by Cher, and reserved for only the most respectable representatives of artistic integrity: Kid Rock, Faith Hill, hellogoodbye, T-Pain, Tim McGraw, and a literally endless myriad of emotional MySpace neophytes desperately hoping that nobody’s yet thought to lace Postal Service blips with their soul-crushing, so-gay-its-straight, emo-tronic trill. But I digress.
We are in the presence of mood masters in the making. Tamers of the lazy morning drive. Fishermen of the hot summer night. Architects of the beautiful snowy afternoon. It’s (for better or worse) the epitome of movie moment background music. The soundtrack of your life. Songs to live to, and love to, and self obsess yourself to. They paint the moments you wished you were having, in the places you wished you lived. All with simple fluttery drums, quiet jangly guitars, pitter-patter pianos, and catchy hooks lined with layers of unassuming pop.
You Are My Sunshine is the perfect moment for new listeners to jump on the wagon. Things have changed so much, yet stayed similar enough, since 2003’s Beneath Medicine Tree, that longtime fans are quick to polarize between favorite albums, while newcomers can breathe easy and unattached to the shifting of seasons that will always be Copeland. And as the progression continues away from its emo-coustic roots toward the indie-pop world of tomorrow, the long time fan is pleased, yet nostalgic, and maybe a little sad. As lovely as the music is, and as grown up as they convince you they are, there is a dichotomous feeling that they will never return to the days of In Motion‘s perfect pop rock, or offer to be at our place in 10, if it’s not too late for coffee. Like all good things, they grow up, get better, and lose the intimacy that made us love them so much in the first place.
Jordan Kurtz is a Patrol music editor.
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