Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Five A.M. – Raise the Sun

Serendipity. The act of things happening without planning; by coincidence, but with a decided, almost predetermined outcome. Destiny. It’s a cool word, and one that completely captures my experience with Five A. M.

I first learned of these guys through the tracks of a recent Indy Sampler, this particular one benefiting eating disorders, and was so impressed with their song “Be Still,” I dropped the boys a letter and quickly found their full-length third album perched on the Ripple desk. As with all discs, it was placed into the ever-growing “to be reviewed” stack where it continued to wait.

This is where serendipity comes into the story. After a brief Ripple road trip down to Santa Barbara, I awoke the next morning, grabbed a ritual cup of java, climbed into the Ripple mobile and headed back home. Wanting the perfect soundtrack for the journey, not too loud, nor too soft, I popped Raise the Sun into the player. Now, it wasn’t 5 am, it was closer to 6:30, and the sun was pretty much risen, but still, there couldn’t have been a more serendipitous musical choice. Driving along side the Pacific Ocean, the early morning sun reflecting off the waves, light shimmering off the glassy surface in a prismatic glow, the music of Five A.M. was a glorious, near transcendent experience. The soundtrack to everything my senses were experiencing; the beauty of every day’s sunrise, celebrated and smooth, yet laced with power and emotion, ultimately soul-touching and uplifting.

Essentially an alt-rock band firmly in the mode of Matchbox 20, Raise the Sun is crafted with such exceptional skill, executed with such perfect musicianship, and laden with such a cache of indelible, unforgettable melodies that it easily elevates above the many pretenders to Matchbox’s throne. This isn't some new-fangled trendy band, or some flavor of the month single for the hipster set. Simply put, this is immaculate pop, rich in tone and texture, infinitely romantic and spiritually-tinged. Deeply affecting, each song brims with release and emotion. A triumph of pop music, Raise the Sun is just begging for national radio airplay. And I'll tell you, if the big corporations won't do it, we at the Ripple will!

“Still in Love with You,” sets the disc off across the back of a precious, chiming guitar that shimmers across the melody like the early sun dancing across the ocean. The vocals are perfectly textured to carry the band’s music; gruff enough to sink into the emotion of the lyrics about love and hope with a sense of complete honesty. A fat snare tone propels the song over the diaphanous intro, until the bass drops in about 40 seconds in, filling the song with a rich depth. Then it all takes off, a positively rousing, soaring chorus elevates the song to a place few pop bands ever reach, a near spiritual plane. As if timed to perfection by some supreme being, just as the chorus began to soar, a flock of 15 pelicans swooped by my car, mere feet from my window, skimming across the ocean, soaring unfettered across the water. I watched them, as the fat snare pounded out time with their wings, until the second chorus hit, launching off with so much power, so much celebration, I had to raise my hands above my head, sticking them through the sun roof, feeling the wind against my palms, celebrating the arrival of the day. Five A.M. and I had reached synergy. I was officially a part of the song, they were a part of me, and damn, if that isn’t the dream of every songwriter, I don’t know what is.

Elated, I listened as the power and drama of “Still in Love with You,” gently receded to the hushed piano and cello somberness of “Be Still.” The track that first captured my ears to the band, sounded so different in this context. Rather than a random track on a sampler, here it was a part of something sublime. I watched a sea lion pop its head above the waves as the vocals called out “The world rushes by/with tears in her eyes.” Then, as before, another soaring chorus freed my ears. Damn, can these cats write them! Choruses that almost seem to be church devotionals. Choruses that simply rise to the heavens, begging for spiritual release. The sea lion dove under water and the pelicans headed west towards the horizon, and “Be Still,” gently faded to silence.

“Just Say Anything,” picks up without a lost beat, adding a slightly jauntier vibe to a song that seems to be truly searching for spiritual guidance. Jangling guitars gather into a rousing congregation. A tone carried to an even more powerful climax with the title track, “Raise the Sun.” This is truly a fantastic song, a standout on any band's album. Laying on some meaty power chords and a driving bass, this track adds some serious rock to the affair without ever losing the driving melody. And even when the guys rock, the sound still simmers with emotional intensity, filled with exceptional playing, instruments, layering in delicately rather than simply plowing through the song. Big guitars ride through the verse, but listen for the glistening guitar tones that sprinkle throughout like a gentle spring rain falling down. Dig that meaty bass breakdown after the first chorus. The vocals are positively impassioned here, singing with a raw emotion rarely heard in pop of this caliber.

And in the end that’s what gets me about Raise the Sun. The production of the album is immaculate. Each tone crisp and shimmering. But rather than drowning out the human energy, or glossing over the rawness of a broken heart, or a soul filled with regret, the band and production meld together perfectly, leaving in it’s wake a deeply touching, gorgeous sounding album of honesty and pain. A must listen for anyone who wants to feel touched by a song, elevated by an emotion. Moved by a verse.

Pick this one up and lose yourself in just how good pop music can be.

Buy here: Buy the CD

1 comment:

Kris said...

Look, I'm not really the groupy type. However, about 2 years ago I came across five a.m. and what they do resonates so loudly with me, it's not funny. Recently, i had the ultimate treat in getting to watch them perform at a small cool venue in san fran. I actually wrote them a silly "fan" email this evening before coming across your review. Let me just say... Way better than any Matchbox. In other words, your review could have been even more flattering.

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