Augustana - Can't Love, Can't Hurt
Record Label: Epic
Release Date: April 29, 2008
When San Diego based Augustana released their debut album in late 2005, they were just another young band trying to make it in the hyper competitive music business. Their album went largely unnoticed until a little track by the name of “Boston” was featured in numerous shows such as Scrubs and One Tree Hill, launching them into the spotlight. For awhile, it seemed like everywhere you turned “Boston” was being played either on the radio or their music video was being played on VH1 or MTV. The rest of All The Stars And Boulevards was comprised of a slightly rough around the edges take on modern pop-rock and did a good job of balancing that style with the occasional foray into more reserved fare.
Rather than try and create a record full of “Boston” clones, the band decided to take a much more reserved approach on their sophomore effort Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt. “Hey Now” opens with a slow pace and Dan Layus’ soulful vocals take the forefront among lush, sweeping string arrangements and subtle guitar lines. This track alone displays a very obvious maturation in the band’s songwriting and finds them stepping away from the straightforward pop-rock formula that dominated their debut. “Sweet & Low”, the first single, begins with Layus’ breathy vocals coupled with the tastefully simplistic piano accompaniment and reserved guitar lines, which serve as the perfect build into the choruses that showcase beautiful vocal harmonies. Although it is just starting to gain steam on radio and music video channels, look for “Sweet & Low” to serve as another runaway hit ala “Boston” and propel the band even further into the limelight.
Following the warmer melodic qualities of “Sweet & Low”, is the somber “Twenty Years”. For a few moments it is just Layus’ and his piano until strings and acoustic guitar are slowly interwoven to create an achingly beautiful track that will undoubtedly see some placement in late night dramas on various major networks. “Meet You There” lightens the mood with punchy percussion and upbeat guitar melodies and an unfaltering energy., while “Dust” takes a much darker alt-country direction and deals with what seems to be a crisis of faith. While usually Layus’ vocals are the focal point of the bands sound, the gritty and grimy guitar solo in “Dust” is outstanding and shows their growth in all facets of their sound.
Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt is a giant step forward from their debut, All The Stars And Boulevards. Sure, that album may have had more immediately catchy and upbeat songs, but after multiple listens, it began to grow a little stale. Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt is a more pop oriented album with a hint of twang prevailing throughout, and is a more well rounded album and has more staying power than their debut. While the band had the added pressure of living up to the hype generated by a hit single as well as dealing with the dreaded sophomore slump, they easily trumped these potential roadblocks. The band improved every facet of their sound - the melodies are more carefully constructed, the vocals (which were already impressive) improved, and the musicianship has gotten tighter - and created a pop album that is guaranteed to be a summer listening staple. As critical as I can sometimes be about the state of mainstream music, there is no denying that Augustana and their songs were built to thrive in the spotlight, and I have a feeling this stellar album will only bring the band more success.
I was blown away by how much of a leap forward this album was, without getting away from the sound they've really cultivated over the last two albums (yes I count their first album, Midwest Skies & Sleepless Mondays).
I'm very glad I didn't try to listen to the few songs that were made available separate from the full album. Hearing it as one cohesive movement does a lot for it.