Mike Mains & The Branches – Calm Down, Everything Is Fine
Record Label: None
Release Date: February 18, 2014
Two years since the release of Home and a lot has happened for Mike Mains & The Branches. Arguably the biggest impact – and perhaps yielding the most unexpectedly positive result – is the departure of the band’s drummer and former manager. While this would normally cause an issue, the event was a change of fate that allowed the band to enlist Zac Farro (of Novel American and ex-Paramore) to take over the kit in the studio. In addition, the band’s run on tour with Relient K also had favorable results, with Matt Hoopes taking over guitar and production. The result of these events comes the band’s appropriately titled sophomore full-length, Calm Down, Everything Is Fine.
Maybe due to the time it took to record, maybe to due the addition direction of Hoopes and Farro, or maybe due to the atmosphere of Nashville during the recording process, everything about this album feels ten-fold more sophisticated than on Home. The fact that two of the members in the recording of this record weren’t even in the band somehow doesn’t break any sense of musicianship. If anything, this band sounds tighter, cleaner, and clearer than ever before. Take the way every instrument plays a vital role in increasing the intensity of tracks like “By My Side,” all building up as Mains wails while still maintaining a rhythm throughout the foot-tapping chorus. Moments like this harken to the skill and musicianship of groups like Only by the Night-era Kings Of Leon or even elements of The Killers, and it becomes quite shocking that this is only the band’s second record.
Immediately from the unexpectedly haunting introductory track “Played It Safe,” this album just feels superior. In just this minute and a half, you begin to notice the chilling atmosphere due to the sudden drum pounds anchoring the build up before the bass drum kicks in. It’s when the track slows after the build and the guitar dances around the bass that frontman Mike Mains comes out of nowhere with a truly snarling passion immersed in his vocals. When “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” comes on after the track ends, it almost warrants a laugh due to the sudden change in pace. Here, we see an entirely different side of Mains than in the intro – his voice is airy with a sense of harmonic confidence. He simply nails the higher chorus and sings right along with the decisively gritty guitar that is perfectly seasoned with a contrasting bass pulse and drum rhythm.
Lead single “Noises” attests to the gritty rock side that this band executes effortlessly. The track lets Mains take control at first, with just a sizable bass supporting a palm mute backdrop. However, once the chorus of kicks in, it’s a full band effort to the point where you could highlight any instrument throughout the song. The guitars add an eloquent layering to the song, giving it a grit throughout the chorus but never overpowering, while the piano builds the bridge before giving way to Mains’ vocal competency. Similarly, on “Take It All,” Wethy’s bass accents every word of the pre-chorus, while the foot-tapping guitar strums play hand-in-hand with the chorus. The musicianship alone throughout this record proves how strong of songwriters these musicians have become and how skilled of a producer Hoopes is for this type of music.
This record has a ton of old-fashioned loud rock elements on it that make me want to hear it on the radio like how Kings Of Leon were are they still? – but there are also a handful of more folk-influenced slower moments. The somber vocal refrain and almost hypnotically delicate guitar plucks on “Slow Down” render this song to a lullaby-like stage of calm. The calming and comforting repetition of “slow down” becomes disarming, making it clear exactly why the album’s title fits perfectly. At this point, you are completely calm and things do seem just fine.
While Mains sounds absolutely superb throughout the album, his pinnacle comes on “In The Night.” The opening “oh-oh-oh’s” make it clear this song is going to be big, and as the bass and guitar perk up, it sure seems like it. However, it’s not until the chorus that the fire really ignites, as Mains then steals the spotlight for the rest of the track. The imagery of his words resonates even more with his remarkable vocal delivery. Throughout the track, he gets you singing along at the chorus, while also demonstrating his vocal skill as he both trembles and exaggerates to accent words. As the track nears an end, Shannon Mains’ synth adds yet another layer to the mix. It’s completely unexpected and almost doesn’t fit, but perhaps that’s what makes it one of the best moments of the album – it’s courageous.
From the old-fashioned art direction of the album cover to the gritty rock elements of the music, Calm Down, Everything Is Fine just feels complete. Each instrument accents different parts of every track, while Mains’ vocals echo with confidence. It’s funny – I’d love for these upbeat, traditional rock songs to be played on stage or on playlists nowadays with the likes of say American Authors or please instead of Imagine Dragons, while I’d rather hear the slower indie-folk oriented songs than all the other random indie-folk stuff on the radio. That alone attests to the diversity and skill of Mike Mains & The Branches. I would take any one of these songs on the radio over almost all of “rock songs” or whatever plays there now. For only a sophomore album, Calm Down is just about as complete and cohesive as it gets, with every song sounding immense and resolute.