Album Review: Longwave - If We Ever Live Forever
I was supposed to see the band Longwave two different times.
The first was in December, 2008—and winter is, like, a dicey time to make plans that involve traveling not a ‘long’ distance, per se, but a distance never the less. It had been snowing all day, if I remember this correctly, and the roads in town were absolute trash, and after a very brief conversation about this with my wife—who wasn’t even my wife at this point—we had been living together for a little over two years and were in the process of becoming engaged and planning out a wedding—but she expressed a lot of concern about me driving the hour to Minneapolis to go a concert, by myself.
I understood; the ticket was a negligible amount of money, and despite the minor disappointment about my change I plans, I too was concerned about my safety on the roads.
So I stayed home, and ordered a t-shirt from the band’s webstore in an effort to console myself. A friend of mine who I was planning to meet up with at the show still went—he was working south of Minneapolis at the time, and was a little more confident about traveling in bad weather. I asked him how the show was, and he said it was ‘criminally unattended.’
The second time was a few months later, in April 2009. Longwave were the supporting act on a tour with Bloc Party. And somehow, at this point, I had turned my friend Tom1 onto the band—he was living in Mankato at the time, so we made plans for him to come through, pick me up, and we’d go to the concert, possibly leaving before Bloc Party even made it onto stage.
For some reason, and now, a decade later if you were to ask me why I did this, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, but I took a moment to look at the venue’s website to confirm that the concert was still happening—much to my surprise, it wasn’t. It had been canceled, because the lead singer from Bloc Party was sick, or something.
I quickly called Tom, who had already left Mankato but wasn’t too far along yet, and told him to turn around and go back home.
Discovering Longwave, when I did, in the spring of 2003, was a matter of being in the right place, at the right time2. I was finishing my sophomore year in college, and when I could convince my boss in the A/V department to point the satellite dish toward it, one of the cable channels our campus offered was MTV2; and, when I remembered, I would record the show “Subterranean,”3 airing late on Sunday nights, and would watch it during the first part of the week.
One of the videos that caught my eye, and song that stopped me in my tracks, was “Everywhere You Turn,” the lead single from The Strangest Things—at the time, it was the forthcoming major label debut from the New York City based band Longwave. The album itself, 16 years later, is still damn near perfect—a surprising, noisy blast of shoegaze-influenced dense, jangly rock music—it’s one of those records that carried with me through time, often returning to it regularly, and citing it among one of my favorites.
I was elaborating on Longwave recently with a friend of mine4 who had never heard of them before—explaining that The Strangest Things was one of my favorite albums of all time, but that the rest of their canon was a little hit or miss. In 2004, the group released the stopgap EP Life of The Party; the following year, they released There’s A Fire—a maligned record that, even upon my initial listens of it in 2005, save for a few brilliant moments (“Fall on Every Whim,” the dramatic “Underneath You Know The Names,” and the brash full-on pop of “Tell Me I’m Wrong,” I always felt like it failed to match the blistering urgency and immediacy of its full-length predecessor.
Following the release of There’s A Fire, the band didn’t so much break up, but were dropped from RCA records5, and went through some line up changes—leading to a number of silent years, before resurfacing at the tail end of 2008 with Secrets Are Sinister—a record that, at the time, I really enjoyed, even with all its faults. Though, again, despite a handful of captivating moments (the shimmering titular track in particular, and the absolute torrent that is “Life is Wrong”) the band, and maybe they aren’t even trying to do this, hasn’t been able to recreate or recapture that exuberance moment from the early part of the 2000s.
The Longwave Wikipedia lists the band as taking an ‘extended hiatus’ in 2008, lasting a decade—during that time, the band’s frontman and guitarist, Steve Schlitz6, released two full-length albums under a new moniker—Hurricane Bells7. The first of which, Tonight is The Ghost, arrived near the end of 2009, just as he had a song, “Monsters,” placed within the second installment of the Twilight movie franchise; the second, Tides and Tales, was released in the fall of 2011.
Both projects had been dormant for so long, I presumed that they were over; for all I know, Hurricane Bells could, in fact, be finished, or just a project that Schlitz dusts off whenever he wants; however, Longwave, after a decade of silence, returned at the beginning of 2018 with the promise of new material and live dates. Roughly 10 years to the date that they released Secrets are Sinister, the band issued a new single at the end of 2018, “Stay With Me.” And for some reason, I slept on it—maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to really go back to a band that I had once held so close to me, or maybe it just, as I have been known to say, wasn’t “hittin.’”8
And maybe because it, at that time, wasn’t hitin’, I was uncertain how to proceed with the news that Longwave were releasing a new album—If We Ever Live Forever, the band’s first in 11 years.
Spread across 10 tracks, including the aforementioned advance single, “Stay With Me,” If We Ever Live Forever is an album that is representative of growth and maturation, as well as a reflection on a decade of self-imposed silence, and a convergence of the band’s variants in sound. It finds the band, sonically speaking, tapping into the bombastic density of Secrets are Sinister, while also evoking glimmers of the familiar, explosive catharsis from The Strangest Things.
There are two impressive things, right out of the gate, with If We Ever Live Forever—the first is, simply, that the band was able to return from a decade away, and almost effortlessly throw themselves back into finding that very similar level of energy—if not more energy than they had in 2008, as well a taking their familiar sound, and allowing it to grow into new heights and complexities.
The second impressive thing is the audacious, incredible four-song run that opens the record—from the dizzying, swirling, cacophony that opens “Before You Disappear,” all the way through the glitchy, frenetic, driving rhythm of “Dreamers Float Away,” If We Ever Live Forever is unrelenting in the kind of unabashed enthusiasm it brings, even as, within those for tracks, the band shows a surprising amount of diversity while still working in their trademark soundscape.
There is a third thing, too, that is possibly the most impressive thing of all about the record, but it arrives at the very end.
If We Ever Live Forever opens with a flurry of noise that slowly gets larger and larger before it completely explodes on “Before You Disappear,” the chaotic first song on the record; even after a decade later, the members of Longwave still know how to craft a tense of drama and tension, along with a release spilling over in a noisy, beautiful fury that detonates about a minute and 40 seconds into the song; and even when everything kicks into a higher gear, Longwave pushes it further, with brief, distorted into oblivion guitar solo that makes the instrument sounding like it was being murdered in a dark alley by an ancient computer—proving that the band hasn’t lost its penchant for pedal fuckery during their time away.
From there, the band finds itself sliding into a surprisingly infectious, slithering groove on the album’s titular track, powered by fuzzed out, tight bass lines from the group’s new bass player, Christian Bongers, rolling alongside the strong rhythm coming from the band’s drummer, Jason Molina—not to be confused with the deceased singer/songwriter from Ohio.
And, surprisingly enough, the band winds up in what could only be described as something…funky…with borderline nods to disco in its arranging, as the album’s second half begins with the equally as infectious “Echo Bravo.”
“Infectious” is not necessarily a word that I would originally think to describe Longwave, but it’s something the band has worked into its songwriting since the early days on The Strangest Things—yes, even though they deal in elements of shoegaze and jangle pop in their aesthetic, this is still, at the end of the day, pop music, and Schlitz, as the band’s primary songwriter, has found a way, in all that dissonance and noise, to create a number of memorable pop moments, both throughout the band’s career, as well as on If We Ever Live Forever—including the two aforementioned tracks, as well as the similarly catchy, similarly slinking in its groove “1 x 1 (Disorder.)”
It’s a terribly fine line, though, trying to work in all of those elements and making sure you have the right amount of each, which is why the album’s first single, released a year in advance, “Stay With Me,” maybe crosses the line and becomes focused too focused on being catchy, straying entirely too far from what makes the rest of this album enjoyable. It’s at this point that the record doesn’t falter per se—but the momentum of the first four songs, as well as the addition of the surprisingly fun “Echo Bravo,” and the swooning grandeur of “I’ll Be The First” are enough to power If We Ever Live Forever to its brilliant, cathartic conclusion.
I spent roughly a week listening to If We Ever Live Forever after it was released, playing it in different scenarios, like while walking home from work, or letting it play through off of the computer9 while at home, and it took me a few times through, from beginning to end, to realize what was going on during the album’s closing track, “It’s Not Impossible.”
The closing track on a record, as one would expect, is incredibly important. If done well, it’ll allow the album to linger with a listener long after the music had stopped; it should be emotional—a big, grand statement that could, if it wanted to, break whatever tension has been created by the rest of the record, offering a fleeting moment of catharsis.
Or, in the case of a song like “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” from The National’s High Violet, it can simply make you sad that the record is over.10
“It’s Not Impossible” is not the kind of song that makes you sad that the record is over—however it is written and structured to be emotionally manipulative enough that it, the song itself, evokes a surprising amount of feelings as it builds, then builds again, then takes off—only to wrap itself up shortly there after, leaving one with a feeling that, while it’s okay that the record itself is over, you wish the song could keep going on forever.
I sent “It’s Not Impossible” to my friend and asked her to listen to it—saying only that I had been playing it on repeat for most of an evening, adding that it was ‘really something.’ She listened, and said she was into it, but needed a little more time with it before she made any kind of real decision; then she asked what it was about it that I liked so much.
I stop short of saying Longwave are the kind of band that make ‘headphone records,’ because The Strangest Things, for example, was mixed and mastered to be, like, exponentially louder than maybe other records at the time—so it sounds great turned up nice and loud over a stereo. However, if you do listen to Longwave through your headphones, you can get a feel for just how dense and complex the group’s dynamics are, and how there is a lot going on, woven tightly into the layers of the song.
“It’s Not Impossible,” from a sheer production standpoint, has a lot going on—specifically with the trick of playing the song’s drum fills in reverse, which is just one of many arresting things about it, both musically and emotionally. In early listens, I wondered if the song would be as impactful if it didn’t deploy this bit of legerdemain, but I think it needs it—helping create a slight undercurrent of tension that literally cuts through the gorgeous bed of music within the song.
Structurally, and musically, “It’s Not Impossible” takes its time revealing itself, which is another one of the elements that makes it such an impactful song—the band uses the entire first minute to simply swirl feedback, tones, and noises around; I mean, there’s really no discerning, at that point, what direction the song is going to take—so when the song passes that one minute mark, it’s a surprise, or some kind of big reveal, as the other elements to the song begin tumbling around.
But, again, the band takes their time with this, too, building things up until Schlitz arrives with the opening line; it’s another 42 seconds of instrumentation only—huge, emotional piano chords, a steady kick drum rhythm that’s only interrupted by the slicing through of those reversed drum fills, and those guitar tones and noises from the first minute of the song return, only this time, more focused on the melody of the song.
“It started this way—at the beginning, it was only me and you,” he sings, in a plaintive, talk/sing kind of delivery—and that’s the way he uses his voice throughout most song, or at least during this opening verse, before effortlessly letting it glide into actual, like, ‘singing’ singing—or, pulling his voice into a higher range, allowing it to rise with the music as it gradually builds.
And it’s that build, and the payoff, with a minute left in the song, that’s the impactful element—“It’s Not Impossible” is almost all dramatic tension, and it almost seems like that beautiful moment of catharsis isn’t actually going to happen, but it does, with so little time left.
Lyrically, there’s a lot of repetition based around the titular phrase of “It’s Not Impossible,” but there’s also, if you unpack the song just a little, a sense of mild desperation, and urgency, and a pensive, bittersweet tone, especially after it really gets going. “It’s not impossible—I’m gonna let you know I’ll make it up to you before the end,” and it’s in that moment, the second time around it’s sung, near the four minute mark—you can hear everything converge in a way that you have to presume the band all did a ‘chef’s kiss’ in the studio when putting this together. On ‘the end,’ the guitars begin to howl, and the full drum set kicks in with a thundering, pounding rhythm, along with additional atmospherics, and piano twinkling mixed in, creating an absolutely gorgeous, borderline devastating, swooning, fleeting glimpse of perfection—the sound of everything both being built up and falling down around you.
Longwave, as a band, didn’t have to return from their decade away—they could have stayed a cult favorite, with indie kids (now indie grown ass adults) still mythologizing The Strangest Things and the band’s association to the early 2000s rock revival in New York City. But for a band to come back, after that long of a time away, or on ‘extended hiatus,’ and not just coast on the goodwill11 of their previous efforts—but, instead, take their time and return with new, genuine album.
If We Ever Live Forever doesn’t ‘reinvent’ Longwave, because as a band, they didn’t need to reinvent themselves. At times breathtaking, and at times, wildly cacophonic and unpredictable, it’s an album that is a reflection of where the band has been, both during their active and inactive years, full of enough energy to keep them looking ahead into a rejuvenated, though always unknown, future.
1 – I am not totally certain on this, but at the end of 2008, I had started working at a radio station, and my guess is Tom was listening to the show I was involved with at the time, and heard me play something off of Secrets are Sinister on the air.
2- For me, this usually meant being in front of the television at the right time—it’s the same way I heard about the band World Leader Pretend in 2005.
3- “Subterranean” was a shortened replacement to “120 Minutes,” which had concluded its run in 2003.
4- Shout out to Andrea, who always reads the footnotes.
5- The band’s Wikipedia says they ‘parted ways’ with the label, but I think that’s a polite way of saying Longwave had been dropped following the release of There’s A Fire.
6- I had a difficult time, while writing this, wondering just how much I should talk about Hurricane Bells, or if I should give any anecdotes about my experience with the two Hurricane Bells records, the first of which I listened to a lot when it came out at the end of 2009. Also, when the frontman and songwriter from one band starts another band, it’s difficult at times to articulate how the projects are different. They sound very similar, just because of who is involved and the overall aesthetic, but I guess if I were pressed to explain Hurricane Bells, I’d say a majority of it is lighter or softer in comparison.
7- I may never see Longwave live, but the aforementioned friend Tom, who I have lost touch with and haven’t seen or talked to in over three years—we went to a very, very poorly attended Hurricane Bells concert in the spring of 2010 at the Turf Club in St. Paul.
8- So, when I originally passed this album along to my friend Andrea, she listened to a little bit of the opening track and, at that moment, was not feeling it and told me it ‘wasn’t hittin’’ She also said it reminded her of U2, and my initial instinct when anyone says anything reminds them of U2 is to get defensive and be like NO IT DOES NOT YOU TAKE THAT BACK, but for real, I can hear why she’d think that because as Longwave has progressed, they’ve aged into some U2-ish tendencies at times.
9- Just a point of clarification that even though I listen to a lot of music on the computer while I’m trying work on a review or whatever, I really hate it and would prefer to just listen from a stereo.
10- For the past nine years, my wife becomes overwhelmed with melancholy when “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” starts—partially because the opening piano progression is emotionally manipulative, but mostly because she’s sad the album is already over.
11- Longwave, at some point before they packed it up in 2008-9, started palling around with Blue October, an ‘alterative’ rock band that I just don’t quite understand. Once Longwave returned from hiatus, they toured extensively in 2018 with Blue October and are currently on the road with them now. I don’t go to shows, really, anymore, and so at this point, I kind of doubt I’ll ever catch Longwave in concert. And you know, that’s okay.
If We Ever Live Forever is out now as a digital download and limited edition LP; the compact disc, for some reason, arrives on November 15th—all via Bodan Kuma.
If We Ever Live Forever is out now as a digital download and limited edition LP; the compact disc, for some reason, arrives on November 15th—all via Bodan Kuma.