review: bleachers "gone now"
by Tavis Gray
“I’ve got to get myself back home soon,” a woman declares, concerned, and recorded (I imagine) somewhere public-intimate. Perhaps an AA-style gathering—a New Jerseyan community center at 8am, donuts and coffee laid out to soothe confession; a New York recording studio in the early morning, a thesis tested, hopefully still with donuts around. Her voice, and the trepidation in it, acts as a refrain throughout the new album from indie-pop act Bleachers. The sophomore follow-up to 2014’s Strange Desire, Gone Now is a summer record that spews optimism even in the face of broiled nostalgia. It’s Sunday morning hypnosis. It’s the past on repeat. It makes me want to drink tea?
Jack Antonoff, founder and front-man to Bleachers, has spent the years since Strange Desire on the pursuit of perfected pop. His producing credits on snake-woman Taylor Swift’s 1989, as well as Lorde’s fantastic Melodrama, speak to his accomplishment in helping to a revitalize a genre known for formulaic chart-toppers. Though not exactly pop, Gone Now enjoys a flirtation with the 80s synths and piano-ballad-key-change-mayhem found in Antonoff’s producing work. But while those instrumentations are experienced as interesting peculiarities in Top 40, they feel wildly familiar here. On my first listen, I was disappointed by all the repetition. Where were the bold choices and sonic surprises I loved in “Rollercoaster” and “I Wanna Get Better?” Where were my jams? Where was my Yoko Ono?
But then I realized I didn’t really want an album of jams. I wanted what I’d been given: a record for walking in circles, for staring out the window, for watching heat on the pavement, and for thinking on time past. Gone Now is for looping through thoughts that won’t quite get out of your head. It’s for waking up in your childhood bedroom on the first day of summer, tucking your legs deep into sweat-sticking sheets, tapping a toe to the sounds of someone else’s youth. The vagueness in its lyrics’ call-and-response to the past (and really to Strange Desire), instills a confidence that wouldn’t work on another artist’s album—and hasn’t (see, I’ll say it: Adele’s 25). But there’s something about ruminating that befits the heavily produced 40 minutes of Gone Now. Listening to it is like re-reading a well-written sentence over and over again.
Songs like “Goodbye” and “Foreign Girls,” though versions of each other, feel less like recycled cans as they do reinterpretations, or similar memories under different shades of moonlight. Even “All My Heroes,” which borrows a sonic makeup from several Strange Desire tunes, is closer to a ripple in a reflection than a Frankenstein’s Monster mash-up. This could be attributed to Antonoff’s auteur-like producing skills. I’m also an easy sell on pastiche. These things are not mutually exclusive. Unlike bread and no butter. Or no chocolate and me.
The first half of the record, which contains most of its radio singles, would pair nicely with a NYC skyline from any movie starring an Aniston, Lopez, Bullock, or Ryan. These are flyover tunes for cinematic-romantic beginnings; overtures to trope-filled, but comforting-in-their-familiarity, stories. These, including the catchy “Hate That You Know Me” (which also contains the self-criticism of a guilty sleeper: “Act like I’ve been up all night/and you know what/I hate it”), will stay in your head much longer than later-in-the-album fare like the more sentimental “Nothing Is U” (“I can’t be alone anymore/since nothing has changed me/quite like you”), even though “U” marks itself with pop-poor spelling and a bending-on-euphoric string arrangement.
But it’s in the record’s penultimate song, “I’m Ready To Move On,” that we get a report on the entire experience, and where a next record might lead. Antonoff’s voice reaches for a higher key, partying with the horns I wish had populated throughout (gimme gimme those horns), as he veers into a twist on the band’s most well-known track, “I wanna get…”—he holds here for a nanosecond of a beat, and then—“free.”
Though I enjoyed Gone Now, and I’ll return to it on Sunday sweat-sheeted mornings, I can’t help but yearn for a next record that feels less like B-sides to Strange Desire and more like something new. I want to hear what else they have to say, even if it’s filtered through John Hughesian nostalgic light. I don’t mind if that takes them out of circles and reflection. I want to hear them get lost, free and lost, even if it takes them farther from that adolescent bedroom, and farther from getting home soon.
And I want more horns. Just thousands of horns.
illustration by sarah crawford
inspired by the bleachers "gone now" album art