Year of the Album — #022
Augustana – “Augustana” (2011, Epic Records)
Eponymous albums are supposed to be statements of a band’s new direction, and Augustana’s third album for Epic is definitely that; like an unholy vocal alliance between Crowded House’s Neil Finn and Bruce Springsteen, Don Layus’s powerhouse vocals anchor this album’s ten tracks with an incredible barrage of hooks the likes of which I haven’t heard on a pop album in years, if even in the last decade.
But will the band be able to capitalize on it? Bob Lefsetz recently argued that bands who spend years crafting albums in today’s climate wind up missing the boat completely as the musical world passes them by — spending your time marketing singles on a regular basis is today’s music, while spending three years crafting an album-lover’s album is so 1975. And he may have a point. But Augustana is such a perfect album, it deserves to find an audience, even if it means flying under the radar as both their previous efforts have.
Still, with singles-in-waiting like “Steal Your Heart,” “Wrong Side of Love,” “On The Other Side” and “Counting Stars,” the first four songs on the album, it’s going to be a huge disappointment if the band doesn’t at least hit the mark with one of them. “Boston” and “Sweet and Low” pale in comparison with the mindblowingly catchy “Steal Your Heart,” which is one of those rare songs you’ll be singing along with midway through your first listen. Even in today’s impatient internet radio world, it’s a song with hooks so determined you can’t fight it! It’s eerily reminesent of Crowded House’s first two albums, pop music so pure it’s invigorating.
Like Crowded House’s own eponymous debut, the ten tracks of the album play as a cohesive whole, while each serves as an individual hook-filled statement of purpose. With music this brazenly addictive, Augustana deserves to be 2011’s version of 2006-era Snow Patrol, lighting up the radio with hit after hit and selling millions. But if they’re simply destined to remain 2011’s best working band, putting out great music for a loyal audience of converts, maybe that’s just as good. In a world where pop music is frequently mere ephemera, Augustana is still batting a thousand, and Augustana is their best effort yet, an easy candidate for my end of year top ten, and we’re only ending May. That’s got to speak for something.