Tuesday, November 08, 2011
The Billions -- Never Felt This Way Before
Well, this is a weird one.
One of the only things I don't miss about my DJ days is the huge amount of mediocre CD's we got in the mail that sounded exactly the same as the last. Anything that sounded different was a welcome respite. One day we got an album with Braile on the front cover from a label called Northern Records. We played it out. We loved it.
The Billions' Never Felt This Way Before is pretty different. In fact, it's so different, I don't really know how to review it. I could say it is 70's style midwestern rock with odd indie, 80's rock, and Beach Boy pop touches, but that doesn't really make a lot of sense. Also, most bands don't have three separate vocalists/songwriters (two of them, brothers). As I am pretty sure I cannot paint an accurate picture of this music with words, and as I am also pretty sure almost no one in the world has ever heard this album or even heard of this band (I haven't been on the radio in seven years, and listeners, apparently I don't trust your memories), I am just going to post each song for streaming and comment.
1. "I Won't Turn Away"
The song starts off like it could be Kansas except for all the tinkling bells. Then the drums come in, and it seems like a straightforward acoustic rock song, until the tom-tom and Rhodes pre-chorus builds up a fury with the guitar into the chorus again. This is a good song, though the music has already stopped making sense.
2. "Hey Girl"
Sounds like a love song from the nerdiest paramour alive. "Hey girl, why you walking, when I'll take you anywhere you want to go?" He sounds like he's on a really geeky bicycle. "I don't know you, but I'd like to learn all about you" Kind of creepy stalking language, yet still sounds sweet, like he will listen to her talk while he stares wonderously through his thick-framed glasses. Dorky keyboards, an irrestible, driving, palm-muted 80's guitar riff, and an early 70's folk flute, plus a surprisingly agressive, drum-roll-y bridge make this quite and enjoyable song. Great outro, too. What the heck is this?
3. "My Life"
Uh, oh. Looks like we've got our first ballad. But wait, all these weird tossed in "La, la, la" background vocals are pretty interesting. So is the piano arpeggio before the chorus. Also the random Eric Clapton guitar. This band must have a list of influences a mile long.
4. "Never Felt this Way Before"
The title track might be the most conventional on the whole album. Maybe the most hardrocking, but not a major departure from anything else. Not really any weird touches, just a decent, straightforward rock song.
5. "Everybody's Waiting"
Kind of a laid back little jam, definitely keeps the 70's vibe. Nice nostalgic lead guitar and keyboard in the background.
Another nice weird one, kind of a slow, dreamy duel between an acoustic guitar and a big symphonic keyboard (and trumpets?) over a girl who won't give the singer the time of day.
7. "Another Lonely Day"
A trumpety ballad about missing a dead loved one. Might be the weakest track, as it's a bit plodding, but it's not a bad song, and it doesn't kill the tone.
8. "Cure the Sea"
Now this is the one. An album like this needs a big, powerful track to seal the deal, and this is it. "I am the cure to calm the sea. Cast me out. Throw me overboard into the sea. I am the cure." Nice fakeout near the beginning with the tinkling bells promising this will be more whimsical fun, when they are just about to get blown away by the wind. Great, timeless song that packs a whallop and builds to a hurricane of a crescendo. I also enjoyed the vocal trade-offs. If you skip everything else, don't skip this one.
9. "The Reason We Sing"
If you've found nothing else weird yet, I offer you this track. "Quirky" is an understatement in regard to this synth/organpop anomaly, but its Outfield-like guitar line between chorus and verse and its honest delivery make it a winner, but probably an acquired taste for many. My old cat used to love this song.
10. "Into the Light"
When you've balanced whimsy and power throughout an album, it's probably best to end with power, and The Billions do. I love the story in this song, and how it changes with age. In my early 20's I thought the line "the night came softly and tried to steal my past" was threatening, but as I hit 30, I realize that in the context of this song, the theft is a gift to be received. A really great song.
Well, there you go. This is the best I can do for an album that has stuck with me for nine years. I hope this gets somebody else to listen.
2002 Northern Records
1. I Won't Turn Away 4:38
2. Hey Girl 3:29
3. My Life 3:14
4. Never Felt This Way 3:27
5. Everybody's Waiting 4:32
6. Asya 3:47
7. Another Lonely Day 4:37
8. Cure the Sea 6:42
9. The Reason We Sing 2:40
10. Into the Light 3:58