As I write this review, wind is blowing smoke from catastrophic forest fires in the area through my window. Hurricanes are threatening the lives and livelihoods of some of our readers, and others are existing in just as tumultuous political climates. Nothing More’s The Stories We Tell Ourselves is the perfect sonic expression of introspection in such an environment; it is the sound of the world burning and the soundtrack to climbing out from the ashes. The Stories We Tell Ourselves will be available on September 15 through Better Noise Records/Eleven Seven.
I often write off prog rock for being too sterile or pretentious, and I seem to see some albums buckle under their own ambition. Nothing More openly defy this judgement. The album opens with a maelstrom of samples that swell into “Do You Really Want It”. Its digital artifacts, funky grooves and absolutely huge choruses act like a Frankenstein’s monster assembled from limbs of letlive. and Hybrid Theory-era Linkin Park. The refrain ‘Everybody wants to change the world/But nobody wants to change themselves’ is both relentless in its catchiness and pervasive in its message – paired with the song’s title, we have to ask ourselves if we are truly willing to live differently in order to be a part of something better. It is this combination of headiness and heaviness that makes almost all of The Stories We Tell Ourselves such a successful and flat-out fun progressive rock/metal record.
The momentum continues throughout the first half of the album’s eighteen tracks, with songs conjuring Tool/Chevelle comparisons (“Ripping Me Apart”) or My Chemical Romance/Fall Out Boy (“Funny Little Creatures”) before a more restrained and anthemic second half. Tracks like the beautiful ballad “Just Say When” feel like a marriage between The Dear Hunter and A Day To Remember, while building up to the epic closer “FadeInFadeOut”. As is obvious, Nothing More cover a great deal of conceptual and sonic territory on The Stories We Tell Ourselves. It is their commitment to strong songwriting and cohesiveness that keeps this album from running out of momentum or losing itself in its details – where I enjoy most prog albums with careful attention on my studio monitors, this record sounded best blasted on my car speakers on multiple rotations over a three hour road trip.
Who We Are
It is rare for me that the production of an album feels as much an instrument or voice on album than an instrument or vocalist does. However, the gritty, super-saturated sound of the album is a perfect match for the unapologetic, almost apocalyptic songs presented here. These tracks sound like beautiful messes – the vocals are distorted, the bass gigantic, and spoken word sections seamlessly segue into seething screams.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Upon the first several listens to this record, I was convinced it was a concept album – the spoken word sections, seemingly political commentary, cohesive production and musical arc all screamed ‘high concept’ to me. However, vocalist/band leader Jonny Hawkins explains, ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves is an introspective journey from the first song to the last. Making this album helped me stay tethered to reality as I navigated through challenges in my personal life.’
Regardless of whether or not the album is intentionally conceptual, its music and lyrics tell me a tale of redemption and invigoration. Openers “Do You Really Want It” and “Let ‘em Burn” show a narrator that sees humanity as deceitful and apathetic, and the accompanying music is similarly angry. Later on, the narrator recognizes his own fallibility with lines like ‘My New Year’s resolution/To choke out my illusions’ and ‘It’s funny how stories that I tell myself leave so many things out’. As the album draws near to a close, the narrator finds an identity worth living for: ‘It’s who we are that keeps me believing‘. The final track passes the torch on to us in a story about father and son: ‘I watched you fade in/You will watch me fade out’. In the same way, I believe Hawkins challenges us to upset our ideas and find a world worth believing in.
Still In Love?
You can probably tell how much I enjoy this record, but it’s not to say that it’s perfect. As mentioned previously, there are a plethora of spoken word sections or interludes strewn about the album’s eighteen tracks. I find the majority of them thematically compelling and not unnecessarily long or abrupt, but they may distract some listeners or intimidate others for being too ‘cerebral’. Such interludes have potential to hinder an album’s pacing, which is not really helped by the fact that the second half of the album is considerably slower and more somber than its opening. Further, the majority of the songs here are exceptionally strong and lyrically invert clichés in a clever way, but this is not the case on “Still In Love”, where a pining, desperate chorus falls just short of the mark, perhaps telling a story that I’ve heard too often before.
With The Stories We Tell Ourselves, Nothing More have crafted an album that straddles widespread appeal and progressive ambition. If all you want is fun, furious songs with some heartwrenching emotionality, the album delivers. If you want to pore over the literary and psychological references to CS Lewis and Carl Gustav Jung throughout the record, there are depths here worth exploring. The Stories We Tell Ourselves is a piece of art that has connected with me personally while still being a ton of fun to listen to. There’s not much more I could ask for from a record, and I hope it’s as meaningful an experience for you when you hear it as it was for me.
Notable Tracks: “Do You Really Want It”; “Just Say When”; “FadeInFadeOut”
FFO: letlive., Linkin Park, The Dear Hunter