Randomly selecting music rarely produces a worthwhile outcome. But for at least one instance in my lifetime, the results were actually wonderful.
Magnificent Lions is a four-piece indie/emo/post-rock band making noise in the unexpectedly vibrant scene in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their debut was the refreshing outlier that I discovered while cycling through new releases on Bandcamp.com. Even more surprising was learning that the front man was the only musician playing on the full-length album.
Tyler Bradford is the architect of this ambitious endeavor, playing and singing and screaming his way through the entire process. Very few even attempt The Dave Grohl Thing, and even fewer succeed. Yet Bradford pulls it off perfectly, with expressive songs written in his teen years, swimming in his head ever since. “It was just something I needed to do,” Bradford said to me a few weeks ago. We had set up a phone call because I really wanted to hear what was behind this album, as it had been eating my lunch for months.
The music itself is powerful and affecting. There is a surprising maturity in the lyrics, which deal with some heavy themes and the dynamics of a broken family. In other words, it’s not your average teen love crap.
I suppose the mandatory comparisons are unavoidable when writing album reviews, but it seems at times a disservice. This album certainly fits the emo genre, but it’s never derivative. At various times, I am reminded of Sunny Day Real Estate, Bad Astronaut, My Epic, and even Alice in Chains, which are all brilliant bands. That kind of variety is only made possible by the amazing versatility of Bradford’s voice. One part might sound like something from The Promise Ring, and the next from Underoath; often within the same song.
Many bands have gone the quiet/loud route, only to demonstrate for everyone that they should have stuck with one or the other. Magnificent Lions seems quite adept at both ends of the spectrum. Deploying impressive patience and depth in their quieter moments, and appropriately tumultuous fervor during the high-energy bits, this is an album devoted to balance. Bradford shows he also understands dynamics of the musical kind, and thankfully, so does the man engineering the album. Three cheers to Daniel Nelson who excelled where so many have failed. Emo is not easy to mix, but even the most diverse tracks here are neither compressed to death, nor in need of constant volume adjustments. The world thanks you, Saint Daniel.
The song that hooked me was We Were the House All Along, and it’s absolutely perfect. The big room drums, the earnest lyrics, and the gigantic chorus hit just right, before seamlessly changing time signatures and bringing it down again (then building it back up of course), only to settle back into the 6/8 progression he started with and ending on a quiet note, with the solitary bass line riding off into the sunset, appropriately alone.
Other standout tracks include The Need and Sleeper, which grabbed my attention right off the bat. However, repeated listening brought a new appreciation for the triptych of songs that end the album: Waking, Hurricanes and Coda. These tracks fit together so well, they sound like they were written on three consecutive days (though they were not). Collectively, they also provide both the resolution and the release the rest of the album is crying out for. Bradford is not the first songwriter to tackle heartbreak and loss, but he does it in such an honest way that anyone can connect to it. By the end of it all, I feel cleansed.
And finally, simply because they are a great example of the absolute poetry on this thing, here’s the lyrics for Waking:
“At the foot of everything
There was a flood in me
So great I could hardly breathe
But you can now rest assured
All of me was accounted for
And all egos aside
Was I just a passerby
Caught and then led astray
I just want to stay awake
Please don’t go
See me through
Great are those who wait”
Are you convinced yet? Just go buy the album. It’s beautiful and sad, and yes — even magnificent.
By the way, just like Dave Grohl, Bradford recruited bandmates after recording the album, and they’ve been playing the songs live ever since. New material has been posted recently, and the early results sound pretty amazing. (One has to admit, the approach worked out well for the Foo Fighters…)