Summers are typically associated with living – having the highest points of your year, being young, and refusing to let anything bring you down. In that sense, Safe For Now is the other side of the equation. Reveling in a bit of darkness, it takes heavy topics head on, unafraid to soak in the pain. Blending dynamic instrumental parts with deeply emotional lyricism and delivery, this record is a total package experience where every element has its place towards making you feel. Toeing the line between something that demands headphones and something that should be played extremely loud, this album is a bit of an enigma. Pressing stress and providing release, it’s hard to put into words exactly what is so great about this record. All you have to know is that it is without a doubt one of the year’s best.
Although its introduction is a bit reserved, “Just Say It” kicks Safe For Now off on just the right note. The questioning “Are you afraid of the end? Are you afraid of the ending of everything?” pulls attention like little else this year has, propelling the rest of the song forward perfectly. The guitar parts are intricate without being over the top, and the bridge provides a great change of pace. As the track fades out, “Blood Orange” brings forth a slightly different style, with more emphasis on Charles Vincent’s drumming and more balance in the guitar noodling. The somewhat blunt lyricism in the chorus stands out as particularly poignant as Matt Vincent weaves his story in the surrounding verses, showing great care in terms of song structure and setting up certain parts to truly shine. The production on “Hungry Hands” is particularly effective, allowing the bass to cut through the mix well and ensuring that your ears are drawn to all of the little details in the instrumental parts. On top of that, the bridge’s flow and change in dynamics provides a nice shift in the latter half of the song to add another touch of variety.
“When You’re Undone” dials the tempo back a bit, but the chorus has an undeniable hook that makes for a really satisfying listen. The dark atmosphere and lyrics in the bridge are almost terrifying, but in the best way possible. That section truly sticks out as a highlight of the record, even if the rest of the track pales a little in comparison. “Fifth And Natoma” rounds out the first half of Safe For Now with some fantastic lyricism and really interesting guitar tones. It provides another sort of pace to the record, maintaining the slower tempo, but resisting the build to a chorus like the one found in the previous track. Fairly reserved, the song almost feels like it was designed for quiet nighttime listening, but it still manages to work early on in the record due to its mix of flowing and more abrupt lines and the inclusion of a mild singalong section in the second half of the track.
The opening of “Shape Shifter” is perhaps the most striking part of any song The American Scene has ever written. From the accusatory rumor-like nature of the lyrics to the overall atmosphere of the ambling guitar parts and cymbals-rich drumming, everything about this track is spot-on. The change to the toms in the drum parts in the pre chorus provides nice variation, and the second verse is sure to put you on the edge of your seat. If I had to pick a single highlight of the record, this might have to be it.
Despite the emotionally heavy-sounding opening of “The View From Here,” the track quickly picks up with a beat that is somehow danceable. As Vincent sings of the stress and struggles associated with love lost, the heaviness in his inflection at the opening comes through even more in his lyricism. The instrumental last minute or so of the song creates space to help balance the record a bit and perfectly set up “Untitled,” which is another of the album’s many highlights. I’m a sucker for acoustic songs, but this one is an absolute gem. Introspective and brooding with slow strums and vocals dripping with feeling, this is an intimate piece of work that is both relaxed and focused. It’s the biggest change of pace from the rest of the band’s work, and they pull the style off perfectly.
Picking the pace back up is “Used To You,” which might be the track with the best hook of the entire record. The line “you make falling out of love sound so easy” has been stuck in my head on repeat since my first listen, and the bridge is simply fantastic. Title track “Safe For Now” has some of the most emotionally poignant lyrics and tight instrumental parts of the record, synthesizing the entire thing into another absolute high point the way that only the greatest album closers can. This is the sort of breakup song that almost makes you feel like you’re the one being broken up with – as if the final moments are the end of a long relationship that is seeing its rapid decay far too soon. These feelings are the reason I always want to listen to the the album right away again – to attempt to start back over again, to regain what was once had.
In the few weeks I’ve had this album, I’ve listened to it more times that all but two releases from the rest of the year so far, and those two came out in January and February. It’s truly uncommon for me to hear something and immediately want to listen to it again. Safe For Now is one of those rare records. There’s a certain inflection in the way Matt Vincent sings that makes every word seem exceedingly important and, even if you aren’t paying attention to the words, that tone still makes you feel. It’s difficult-to-pin-down elements like these that separate albums that are simply “good” from those that are truly great. This record has the intangibles. It’s difficult to place quite why I love it as much as I do, but I know that I always want more. I don’t foresee this album falling out of my rotation soon, and it’s certainly going to have an extremely high spot on my year-end lists. If it sounded like I was raving about every single song, that’s because every single song deserves to be raved about. If you’re looking for the year’s best music, you really can’t afford to sleep on this record.