The Tower & The Fool

How Long

Written by: CM on 25/04/2012 19:59:54

Every once in awhile, an album comes along, out of nowhere, and just stops you in your tracks. It's a rare but beautiful thing when you can listen to a record for the first time, completely free of all expectations, and have it knock you down. Last year, a pair of records landed in my top ten from artists that I had known nothing about prior to my first listen: the first was Charlie Simpson's "Young Pilgrim," a gorgeous folk-pop effort that was right up my alley from the get-go. The second was Mansions' "Dig Up the Dead," an emotionally intense set of break-up songs that wormed its way into my consciousness as the year moved on until I couldn't ignore it: I expect that a similar fate will befall "How Long," the excellent full-length debut from Rhode Island-based rock band The Tower & The Fool, a break-up album that encompasses some of the best melodies, the most emotional vocals, and the most stunningly heartbreaking lyrics that I've heard all year (or, perhaps, all decade).

In the realm of musical statements, I find a well-executed break-up album to be among the most fascinating. Undoubtedly, some of the greatest art of all time has been the product of personal disaster. When artists let the world in to see them bleed, put all of themselves and their lives into a musical work, the result is the rawest, most unadulterated portrait of them that we can ever glimpse. Its why so many of my favorite records have this associations: albums like Butch Walker's "Letters," or Will Hoge's "Draw the Curtains," Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" or City And Colour's "Sometimes," Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" or Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks." Each of these records, whether or not I consider them the best the artist in question has to offer (which, except for Springsteen and maybe Dylan, I do), has a raw honesty that is truly enrapturing, and each of them include some of the greatest songs I have ever heard. Were it not for Springsteen's protest-album masterpiece "Wrecking Ball," which will very likely be my album of the year, I could say that none of those artists ever again reached the dizzying heights of their break-up masterpiece. There's something electric about a break-up album, something real and fleeting that is impossible to re-capture, but difficult to walk away from, and few artists are ever able to achieve that emotional apex more than once. Here's hoping that the guys from The Tower & The Fool don't succumb to that curse, but from the moment frontman Alex Correia references "Tangled Up In Blue," the definitive break-up anthem from Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks," on album-highlight "Broken," it's clear that he's not kidding around.

The band isn't kidding around with their list of influences either, which reads like a 90s-throwback compilation and includes artists like Counting Crows, Whiskeytown, and The Gin Blossoms. There are shades of those bands' folk and alt-country leanings all over "How Long," but Correia's whiskey-drenched vocal tone is a bit rougher around the edges than those groups' respective frontmen, and some finest moments here veer closer to more recent artists like Jimmy Eat World and The Dangerous Summer: emotional lyrics, set to sweeping melodic choruses and devastating verses. It’s a formula that never lets the band down, and there isn't a moment that even comes close to being weak across the record's ten tracks. Anthems of heartbreak, like "Dive Bar" and "Broken," give way to more pensive numbers, such as the title track, "My Heart is Dead in NYC," and "Breach," with Correia delivering a handful of lines in each that hits like a ton of bricks. In "Dive Bar," the album's rousing opener, it's "maybe you fell in love with a feeling and not a girl," while in "How Long," the album's elegiac centerpiece, it's lines like "And at night when I sleep, her ghost crawls in my sheets/I hear her voice calling out my name" that will transport us all back to those moments when we were forced to get over a person we had no interest in moving on without.

A swell of B3 organ keys and a scorching guitar solo are the cornerstones of penultimate cut "Die Alone," which serves as the climactic peak of a heartbreaking record. Desperation cuts through Correia's voice as he belts out the song's chorus ("And I'm praying to God that her love keeps me afloat/'Cause man, I don't wanna die alone") but we feel distinctly like there's no end to his suffering here, and the closer, though it reaches resignation, is one of the album's hardest-hitting moments. Set to the backdrop of a single acoustic guitar, softly finger-picked in a swirl of intimacy, "Who Does She Think She Is?" lands very much in the tradition of great break-up album closers. It's a slow-burn of regret and resignation, where Correia sounds tired and broken, and just like many of his predecessors in this tradition, like he has nothing left to give or to say. "Love is a horrible thing," the album concludes, and though The Tower & The Fool may be inviting a pity party of sorts with this record, that's an important part of the tradition as well.

Ultimately, "How Long" earns itself the rather dubious honor of being the saddest album of the year (at least so far), and while the constant surge of heartbreak and bitterness that Correia sings about may grow tiring for listeners who aren't going through a similar situation (such as myself), we've all been through a romantic disaster at least once, and these songs express those feelings perfectly. It's the kind of record you can disappear into, an album full of lyrical gems and musical triumphs that build to a sublime catharsis, and the overall impact is breathtaking. Only time will tell whether or not anyone will construct a better ode to a relationship or a more emotionally intense record this year, but for now, The Tower & The Fool is in about the best position any 2012 release could be: in my number two slot, right after Springsteen.


Download: "How Long," "Dive Bar," "Broken," "Die Alone"
For the Fans of: The Dangerous Summer, Counting Crows, break-up albums in general.

Release Date 24.4.2012
Run For Cover Records

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