Honest Engines - Going Away
Record Label: Tandem Shop
Release Date: July 17, 2012
The Chicago quartet Honest Engines are an atmospheric band that lets their songs play out like a staged drama. Over the course of three EPs they have created moments of tension, urgency, despair and hope. And those four themes are revisited once again on the group's first full-length Going Away.
Album opener "Callanambulance," begins with pronounced drums, twinkling guitars and vocalist Stephen Mulcahy's inimitable vocals. There's an earnestness and sincerity in his every utterance that helps makes each Honest Engines song deeply resonant, hypnotic and hard to turn away from. "Callanambulance," is no exception. The song itself suffers from a lack of pace and sort of moves towards nothing. That is until the 3:30 mark, when a searing guitar needles its way through the firmament, before giving away to the verse, "Though we failed, at least we know we tried." And then from there, things begin to push forward in the most gorgeous of ways. When the song finishes it is clear that the band has clearly stepped up their game since last year's French Song EP.
Mulcahy has said that Going Away is an attempt to encapsulate a feeling of drifting through life like a slow sputtering comet. Nowhere is that more apparent than on lead single, "Faster Van," which ticks along slowly and languorously. Thick with rhythm and anchored in measured pacing, the song is precise, direct and deeply affecting. At the four-minute mark, the song gathers steam as guitars swirl and duck, cascading over a light patter of drums and bass.
Mulcahy has noted that the band made a conscious effort to include an array of climaxes, swelling crescendos and high musical peaks, and Going Away has plenty of them. Exhibit A and B respectively are the teetering closer "Fun!!" and the swelling "Old Folks Home."
Even on the songs without crescendos, there's still something potent about the band's output. Take for instance the winsome melancholia of the mid-tempo "Pistola," in which Mulcahy sings, "She will never be happy, she will never find rest in the darkness unless I put a ring on that finger and put my soul to the test."
Now three EPs and a full length into their career, Honest Engines seem to have hit a stride laden with comfort and confidence. That Going Away is also their creative zenith is certainly no accident. Recorded over a nearly two year period at guitarist Marcus Maloney's Ethnomusikology Studio, the album draws on the calculated and precise nature in which it was created. The band made a concerted effort to create dramatic moments and give the listener something more long lasting. No longer confined to the constraints of an EP, Honest Engines had the opportunity to push their creativity forward.
Maintaining a sense of atmosphere can often prove to be tricky, but Honest Engines knows exactly what they are doing. They know when to up the ante and when to pull back on the reins. That kind of innate musical sense is why Honest Engines are poised to leave the cozy confines of the Midwest behind. They are no longer Chicago's secret. With Going Away, the band is truly poised for something greater.