Roman Candle’s fourth full-length record, Debris, is a departure from the shining pop masterpieces for which the band is known. This is a band that’s on their fourth label and has always been on the cusp. That frustration can be heard here.
On past albums Roman Candle was in full service of the melody and focused on how to deliver it with the most punch. Debris focuses on building atmosphere. This results in compositions thickened with synths and guitar and vocal effects. The percussion rhythms seem to loop in on themselves instead driving listeners through a song creating a vortex that can be thrilling and odd at the same time. The band seems to have taken some influence from fellow Tar Heels The Rosebuds in creating unexpectedly danceable rock.
This change in composition serves vignette structure of the record. Fitting with the titular metaphor, each song touches on a separate story, unique up close but suggesting that it was once part of something larger. The stories on Debris often contain relationships, but are rarely about the relationship in question. The larger theme is about the small moments when people realize they or the people around them are stuck and something has to change.
The fulcrum of the album — literally and lyrically — is “Nowhere To Start” in which lead singer Skip Matheny sings most clearly about starting over:
Well I stood there tonight in the window of your room
and the rooftops were rubies If I looked out right
and all the debris of the world I knew
was laying below in a weird moonlight.
You talked to me, and you had no idea
but every word you said landed square on my chin
and I could not wait for you to pick me up, stand me up
and knock me over again.
You see this house I built?
So long before I met you?
Look out. Look out.
There's a wrecking ball coming through
I thought I'd found a little piece of my brain
I thought I had a little place to lie in
There's nowhere, nowhere
nowhere to start but start again.
Skip’s lyrics are brilliant and beautiful yet again. When discussions of the best modern lyricists occur, he needs to be mentioned along with the likes of John Darnielle and others. Take the opening passage from “Every Time.” It reads wonderfully even separated from the music:
Pulling up the shade again,
the sunlight hits the room and the dust I see there,
everything that hangs in the air -
Memories and wasted years
and half a life of oh so nears
that float there so plain in the day -
It leaves me with some restless feeling I know
like a vacant lot that's in my veins, and it goes
The structure of the stories is also clever. “I Drank Bourbon After I Brushed My Teeth Last Night” starts with the title phrase and slowly pulls back the lens to reveal the psyche of a narrator who would do such a thing.
Debris takes some getting used to. It’s darker and more introverted than the music that made most people fans of Roman Candle, but it’s an honest reflection of a band that’s changed and moved on.
Debris is out now on Big Light Recordings.