By Marty Mulrooney
American Master is the brand new album from The Changes. After making such a scene with their spectacular debut album Today Is Tonight in 2006, this talented indie band seemed destined for greatness. However, soon after their first album was released they quickly disappeared into relative obscurity, kept alive only by the dedicated fans who patiently waited in dwindling hope for new material to appear. Lead singer Darren Spitzer told Alternative Magazine Online in 2010 that he wasn’t sure about a new album, ‘but we always have tons of songs.’ However, it’s now 2013 and – against the odds – The Changes have finally released a follow-up album, American Master, after working on it over the past five years.
American Master begins immediately – seven years after their debut album, The Changes waste no time with slow build-ups in tempo or volume. From the very first millisecond of the very first track, ‘A Mystery’ arrives with a steady drum beat and reverberant guitars, married with the softly confident vocal talents of Darren Spitzer. It’s unmistakably the same band from 2006 (with their trademark wistful lyrics and permeating sense of joyful, exuberant damp), but somehow they seem older, more mature. It’s as if they never left.
The instantly hummable ‘Bones’ makes everything click into place – it’s everything a good The Changes song should be. Today Is Tonight was a brilliant album and American Master wisely doesn’t attempt to tackle it head-on. Instead, the band’s sound remains instantly recognisable, but the songs themselves are far more raw and seem content to play out with a certain degree of restraint. Tracks such as ‘Mask’ and ‘I Woke Up’ flow along nicely, delivering great musicianship without any unnecessary spikes.
‘Gas Station Girl’ is the musical embodiment of a bittersweet sunset car ride filled with heartache and longing. When Darren Spitzer tenderly asks ‘Gas station girl, won’t you stay?’ he already knows the answer – regardless, such questions are made to be asked and the answer here is a downright lovely guitar solo that doesn’t try to change the world. None of the band members are about showing off and their music is all the better for it. ‘It Was Saturday’ talks about wants and needs but thankfully, the musicians are never quite so demanding. This is humble music that stays in your heart – the penultimate track is therefore both aptly named and gracefully performed.
‘Never Blue’ begins with the lyrics ‘The greatest person in the world is you. The only one that matters, it’s true.’ and ends the album on a high note. It’s a fitting closer – although The Changes constantly brush against the darker side of happiness, their music is never blue and that’s precisely what makes them so special. It’s hard to deliver sad songs filled with joy, but The Changes make it seem effortless.
American Master isn’t a better album than Today Is Tonight – which still ranks as one of the greatest modern debut albums that you probably haven’t even heard of – but it’s a worthy follow-up that quickly proves to be a real grower. Band members Darren Spitzer (lead singer) and Jonny Basofin (drums) are still living in Chicago, but Rob Kallick (bass) has moved to LA and Dave Rothblatt (guitar/songwriter) is now living in Taiwan.
Despite the increased void between them, The Changes are still every bit the band they promised to be in 2006. American Master deserves to be heard and the fans most definitely deserve another album before the year 2020 – a seven year wait is far too long. Spread the word and let the music wash over you like a comforting sun-kissed blanket on a rainy Sunday afternoon… this is sadness delivered with a smile.
8 OUT OF 10