Sailing Away With Those Vibrant Young People Are Dead
(Editor’s Note: This is an expanded and corrected version of the article that appeared in the April 2011 issue of JAVA Magazine. This is the director’s cut.)
Right from the start, Mergence’s debut album explodes with a resounding “HA!”, then the piano, guitars and drums crash in at once, while lead singer Adam Bruce sings, “Focus all your energy on one thing at a time, trade in all your enemies for just this one good time, we sail, sail away.” Indeed they will and for the next 39 minutes of your life you too will sail away as you enter the world of Those Vibrant Young People Are Dead. It’s good advice too, just focus on the album, exchange all your problems for one great time and enjoy Mergence’s own brand of what can only be described as down and dirty, sweaty and sexy, moody and beautiful, rock and roll. This is rock’n’roll in the purest sense, the right amount of pop, skillfully injected with generous amounts of blues, soul and a genuine energy that becomes infectiously pervasive the more and more you find yourself playing it. This debut is one for the record books, and one that should launch Mergence into the big time.
Along with a few other bands around town, Mergence is clearly setting the bar a bit higher for the quality of music coming out of the Valley of the Sun this year. The four men responsible for this masterpiece, Adam Bruce (vocals, guitar, piano), Yod (guitar and vocals), Brandon Shupe (bass) and Jason Roedl (drums) along with Bob Hoag from Flying Blanket Recording have created something great that impressively reflects the intensity of their live shows and the perfection of their talents. If you haven’t caught Mergence live yet, do yourself a favor and get to the next gig you can – you’ll be amazed how in just a few seconds the space in front of the stage will go from completely empty to instantly packed with vibrant young people dancing wildly and singing along to every song. Listening to the album it is clear they were somehow able to translate that quintessence to their recordings, without hordes of girls studying their every move and screaming for more.
The album itself was named for a random title Bob Hoag wrote down during recording, assigned to a single track channel and taken from an obscure reference to a line in the classic sketch comedy show The State. “We saw it and took a picture of it,” Bruce said. “The album eventually grew into its name.” So the album became Those Vibrant Young People Are Dead and, just as easily, they discovered what would be the intricate and alluring album art. “Our bass player does really cool collage art and shadow boxes,” Bruce explained. “It was the centerpiece of one of his pieces. Both of these things didn’t take a lot of debate.” “That was all really smooth,” Roedl added. In fact, everything that went into making the album seemed to fall into place as if the stars were aligned—recorded in only two four-day sessions, much of what has become the album was done in one or two takes—including some songs that just “happened” in the studio, like the lyrically improvised “The Road.” Everything comes across honestly in the album, from the ease of recording with Bob Hoag to the influence of classic rock on all of the members of the band, a love for blues and soul and an appreciation for the likes of Radiohead, and here and there even a touch of punk. It’s all there and it’s easy to hear the influences, but like all the best rock bands in the world, Mergence makes it their own. The album too, becomes more than the sum of its parts and leads the listener on a dizzying journey through life and death, through innocence and experience, through wisdom and grace. It is a complete experience unto itself.
“Dynamite & Kerosene” literally launches the album as not only a standout single, but an opening salvo announcing the intentions and powerful ferocity of the songs soon to follow in its elegant wake. It is easily the most commercially accessible song on the album and the single that invites you to spend some time with Mergence, promising it will be well worth the investment of your attention. Admittedly, it was the song that got me hooked, this song streaming on their website, and forty minutes later I just found myself shaking my head in awe at the complete work. Adam Bruce may well do his best work when he’s behind the piano, and as his lyrics match the pounding of the keys, they become anthemic. This song is designed to draw you into the sweaty, sexy, rock’n’roll world of Mergence and it achieves every goal it sets out to reach. I’m not sure there’s been a better album opener…ever. Cool, calculated, brilliant. “That was a character song, as I like to call it,” Bruce said. “I became this character one night at home with the piano and that’s what it’s about.” There was a point too, when girls were dancing in his laundry room in the early morning hours to the demo of the song, that Bruce had to admit, “Yep, this is the single.”
The sultry, swagger of “If You Know, Then You Know” is a hypnotic slow burner of a blues number that eventually builds to riotous rock’n’roll by the end—it’s a sleeper number that craves you, the listener, psychologically to participate in the dream they are weaving. Yod’s guitar solo is enough to make most melt while the frenetic frenzy it invokes only ignites the lyrical delivery that follows. It may well be the most underappreciated number on the album for its simplicity and the most beloved for its passion. “That one came pretty quick,” Roedl said. “Adam started playing the chords in the lounge of Flying Blanket, I started the harmonies,” Yod added. Ironically, the ghostlike “ooohhhs” were laid down before the haunting lyrics were ever added. Amazing.
“Me & My Family Vs. The Robots” is something of a centrally located masterpiece within the first half of the album, brilliantly contoured, composed, and in truth it stands out, in the long run, as one of the best songs, if not THE best song on the album. This song makes my soul reel, literally—for one it is the finest constructed song on the record, but also the concept and the metaphor at hand is dear to my heart, it proclaims society as a whole as a horrible life consuming robot with sharp claws and even sharper teeth. After a few good listens to this song, you will resoundingly want to proclaim your current status as: “Fuck You Robot!” Bruce clarified, “I was at my cabin in the White Mountains, everybody left and I was there by myself, I started strumming it, then the lyrics were inspired by the place I was at.” Yod was quick to add, “I shat golden eggs all over it!” The truth be told, he’s not wrong. “It turned out to be my favorite song,” Roedl added. “It’s inspired by being in the mountains and looking at society while being completely disconnected from it,” Bruce said. To hear it now, click on the media player below!
In the down and dirty blues of “The Road” Bruce somehow evokes the spirits of the very delta that spawned the sound, while Yod enters the world of guitar mysticism, Shupes bass work adds a menacing darkness while Roedl’s drums explode in glory. It’s hard to believe that this is, for the most part, improvised in the studio—and yet, it makes sense, something is evoked, even invoked here that goes well beyond what they might have foreseen, something is channeled here. This is a haunted blues number that emerges from a swamp thousands of miles away and many decades ago. “The lyrics and the chorus were improvised,” Bruce said. “When you’re listening to this on the album it is the first time this song is a song,” Roedl said.
“Girl. Fear. God.” is probably a good pick for the second single, because here we have Mergence’s blues and soul appropriation brought into proper finery in the sense of the Stones Exile or The White Stripes at their best. This song, in all honesty, may offer the best advice of the set: “Might be your Girl that gets you down, might be your Fear, Might be your God, you gotta’ just ride the wave.” True enough, I don’t’ think anyone can honestly argue with that sentiment. This is universal and the appeal, when played live is simply collective. “This literally took six months to go from what you hear on the record to this long, convoluted process, back to what you heard on the record,” Yod said. This seems to be a continual lesson for Mergence, usually the first take or two turns out to be the sweetest.
Continuing seamlessly from its predecessor “Eulogy 29” serves as an elegiac coda for “Girl.Fear.God.” that lasts longer than its companion. It is a mournful, completely instrumental inclusion that serves to balance the nearly manic delivery of its counterpart. Upon repeated listens to the album it becomes an essential part of what Mergence is expressing, a complete audio experience of life as it is, now, fully realized and wondered at, in beauty and glory, death and shame. The more you listen, the more heart wrenching it becomes. “It’s the eulogy, I guess,” Yod added thoughtfully. “ If ‘Girl.Fear.God.’ is the funeral.”
“My Prayer” is something I like to call the desert blues, it’s unique to musicians who find themselves at home in the extreme conditions of the scrubland of the Sonoran or the sandscapes of the Mojave—it’s something Black Rebel Motorcycle Club tapped into on Howl and it has a bit of old time religion feel to it without any suggestion that there is a God involved. This is the music you picture yourself playing in a muscle car as you careen through desert highways, sun burning off the tarmac, dust covering your windshield, lizards skittering to the shoulder—this is the blues of the borderlands defined. “It is the oldest song on the album actually,” Yod commented. “Now that I look back,” Bruce added, “I feel that was kind of a time when you realize things are going to change, this is what you’re dealt and it’s how you learn about life.” To quote the lyrics, “Innocence, in a sense is gone, all through the years, learning you’re wrong.” Stark wisdom within a killer number.
It seems like the finale to the album, but “Time Flies” is so much more than that, sure it seemingly sums up the themes, it answers the questions asked, and it completes the cycle started at the beginning of the album, but it goes beyond its intention, somehow it reaches beyond its scope.“You’ll leave it all behind someday, what you give is what you take, so give love away” says it all plaintively, beautifully, perfectly. It is a transformational track and erstwhile, provides us with some of Bruce’s most delicate vocal moments. It does conclude some of the territory upon which we’ve been welcome to tread, but alas the journey, the dreamscape is not yet over. “I think lyrically it offers a solution for some of the questions on the rest of the album,” Bruce noted. “This has always been a fan favorite, if we don’t play it, people get upset.”
It’s the transition of a few heartbeats that take us to the true finale, “At The Salt” which is in essence an awakening from the dream, it is the coda, the finale of the album, the experience, it is waking up to find ourselves fresh from the night, eyes still crazy and dazed, minds unsteady staring into the wilderness pondering all that has gone and all we’ve just went through. It is the final reckoning and every bit of it is beautiful. “It was an actual event,” Bruce said. “At the Salt River, what I describe as a present moment song, I was literally documenting what was going on. It was like a four minute moment, a guy walked out of the trees in camouflage, I asked him what he was doing there and he just walked away. And then Yod says it all with his guitar…twice, on two solos.” This song also seems to bend time and many have commented on it. “There’s a flux capacitor in that song,” Shupe laughed. Honestly, it seems like a nine to twelve minute epic, but when it finishes you see you’ve only been gone for six and a half, and it’s difficult to reckon where exactly you’ve been. This is the magic of life transposed into song, those rare moment s captured, the ones we will always remember and marvel at, the ones that punctuate the particular sentence we were living at the time.
When you are left over, when you finish the album again and again, you have to shake your head in wonder at what band could create this sound, what band could create this beautiful noise—the answer is Mergence. This band creates a soulful, blues drenched variation on rock’n’roll that makes your knees go weak, that makes your spine shudder and your mind say, “Yes, you’re mine!” and not because you want to, but because you have to, you have no other choice. Give into Those Vibrant Young People Are Dead, because if you don’t, then you probably are.
Mergence’s debut is available locally from Hoodlums, Revolver, Stinkweeds and Zia. It can be purchased online from iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby. For upcoming shows, a free download of “Dynamite & Kerosene”, a stream of the album, lyrics, videos and all things Mergence be sure to check out: http://mergenceband.com/
Mergence – “Me & My Family Vs. The Robots”