Under a dozen scholarly, impenetrable song titles like “Epaulette,” “Autotheology,” and “Minorwye,” Orlando band You Blew It’s new album, Abendrot (out today on Triple Crown Records), alternately glimmers and clobbers. Guitar riffs drizzle down like melting ice cream, then fortify into chunky strums. And singer-guitarist Tanner Jones experiments with his voice more than he ever has, softening it to a near-whisper in the most melodic release of the band’s seven-year career.
But those song titles, man. They’re hard to get away from. What kind of influences were these guys into when they made an album called Abendrot, which is defined as the image of a sunset’s lingering afterglow? When I call Jones, who’s almost at the finish line of a four-day drive east across the country, he lists two right up front: Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan.
“Their storytelling is bar none some of the best in indie rock today,” Jones said. “Listening to that was definitely a good thing to be surrounded by, but I also found myself being influenced a lot by films and cinema.”
The two ideas make sense together, and Abendrot’s sparse, piano-led final track, “Kerning,” evokes Death Cab’s “Passenger Seat” in its understated cinematic grandeur. Instead of, say, building a song over the skeleton of a drum beat, Jones turned to films to inspire moods, then wrote songs to fit those moods with bandmates Andy Anaya, Trevor O’Hare, Matt Nissley, and Andy Vila.
“We all met in a cabin and hung out for four or five days and just knocked out two to three songs every day, just immersing ourselves in that,” Jones said. That resulted in an album unlike the band’s previous LP, 2014’s Keep Doing What You’re Doing, in its more subdued and introverted tone, with songs about colors as metaphors for loss, wandering through cemeteries, and grappling with religion.
Jones’s strained vocals, a hallmark of previous albums that caused him to lose his voice on tour, have mellowed out to fit the gentler new music. Among the results are the gorgeous song “Hue,” which calls to mind Jimmy Eat World, and also the crunching fuzz of “Minorwye,” which utilizes a lower guitar tuning. “It’s a game of dynamics,” Jones said.
Even the band’s name — a reference to that scene in Billy Madison and also a Tim and Eric skit — has intermittently featured an exclamation point it accrued over time, though it was never officially part of the moniker. The lack of one now, for Abendrot, seems appropriate for an album less concerned with shitty barbecues and throaty vocals.
“Just singing all those songs so angrily also wasn’t very good for my voice,” he said. “Getting older and playing in basements and things like that, you start to be able to hear yourself better, not only physically but mentally, too.”
That self-awareness came as they graduated from house shows to larger venues, opening for Taking Back Sunday this past fall at New York’s Irving Plaza and Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club. And in 2014, they reached a pivotal moment of maturation when Jones sang Weezer’s tender “Susanne” acoustically for a five-song all-Weezer covers EP called, perfectly, You Blue It.
Experiences like those, coupled with the inevitable growing up that happens in your mid-twenties, have built an often-invoked narrative for rock bands as they release a third or fourth album. It’s an easy cliché: Emo grows up.
Jones agrees that it’s a played-out concept. But then again: “I guess we’re just following the narrative, ’cause we’re grown up, too.”
“Every band I think kind of goes through that phase where you start to get tired of writing songs for basements and writing songs for blown PAs and un-miked rooms and things like that,” Jones said. “Writing based on that is, I don’t know, it feels right, and — oh, hold on one second.”
Jones goes quiet for a moment, then I hear him announce to the car: “We’re passing into Florida. Quick, guys!”
There’s some more silence, then brief rustling on his end. “OK, I just had to honk a little bit. But yeah, I hope I answered your question.” After a four-day cross-country trek, the band is finally home, the album is ready to go, and Jones still has his voice after a slew of shows in well-miked rooms this time around. No argument from me.