ALBUM REVIEW: Substance and nostalgia lurk underneath Antonoff’s Bleachers

 Proudly New-Jerseyian indie pop outfit Bleachers dropped its latest (and self-titled) set of tunes this past Friday, continuing its tradition of radical innovation in the genre of sad 1980s movie nostalgia music. Look closely and the composition starts before the first track with frontman Jack Antonoff epitomizing cool uncle energy on the cover while pulling his best Fonzie leaning on the back of some variety of mid-1960’s Cadillac. This album smells like half-grain leather and suppressed anxiety, paying homage from the word go to both vintage Bruce Springsteen and contemporaries like The Killers.

Bleachers album cover for their 2024 release

     There’s an uncanny charm in the distant guitars and booming vocals of “I Am Right On Time.” Bleachers have always utilized modern production techniques while aiming for older tones, but this track’s production slips just short of that goal, falling into the strange land of “almost ’80s,” which continues perfectly with the next track.

     “Modern Girl,” unlike the opener, nails this uncanny combination of sound and soul with constant cultural references and references to the band itself. It pulls together into a cohesive Springsteen homage, echoing Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” without the head-spinning sociopolitical bite. This starts a trend on the album of nailing a certain brand of faux-’80s. It’s like disintegrating GM leatherette in a Chevy Celebrity and sun-damaged shutter shades: it’s not flattering, but it works.

     One of the strongest features of this album are the squealing transcendent tones of saxophonist Evan Smith, with the small details elevating the track “Me Before You” to greatness. “Me Before You” pulls back in the distant style of “I Am Right On Time,” but with more purpose — and it works. The entire song plays like an afterimage of a sunny day.

     The second half of “Bleachers” gets significantly more introspective, with the song “Alma Mater” playing heavy in the background as Antonoff bares his heart to the audience. With reference to a relationship of extremes and music to match, Tom Waits’ “Heartattack And Vine” being called out specifically (good taste!) This track marks a turning point where the pop takes a back seat to the indie, and it’s nice to hear.

     “Tiny Moves” acts as a response to both Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and The Killers’ “Smile Like You Mean It.” It plays out showing a tender and supportive narrator commenting on the big effects of the smallest changes in life and how to keep stable in a changing world.

     Skipping a few great tunes, “Hey Joe” acts as a reset to the whole album, with new lyrics to the famous rock standard telling a uniquely modern story. Talking about trauma and war and revolution and generational tension never sounded so small and easy, this track shows how good a band Bleachers really are.

    Bleachers’ “Bleachers” kicks butt like New Jersey itself often claims. It’s a great album, and the uncomfortableness from the early tracks is just a stumble on the road to greatness. With wonderful instrumentation and plenty of style, this album is sure to stand the test of time at least as long as the artists it’s emulating.

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