Album Review: Spirit Night – ‘Bury The Dead’

Posted: by The Editor

Beyond the clear connections in the title and artwork, the feeling of death hangs, scythe-like, over Spirit Night’s Bury The Dead, as funeral-style marches are interspersed amidst the indie-punk tracks examining loss—loss of family, friends, old selves, a feeling of home, a hope that things will ever change for the better. But, like the title suggests, these losses often come with new beginnings (“new habits to kick”), and Bury The Dead comes off as a triumph over what is haunting you more than a surrender to your demons. It’s the best kind of “therapeutic record,” where you can literally feel the weight and work Dylan Balliett put behind these songs, while at the same time listening through takes you on your own journey that reaches the often unplumbed depths of the psyche before bringing you back out into the light.

Death is always (at least symbolically) connected with rebirth and Bury The Dead starts with a fucking jolt back to life in the form of “Left Behind,” an uptempo rocker bolstered by the starlit array of guitars and Jordan Hudkins’ spot-on drumming—which is a highlight throughout the whole record, as his perfectly placed fills catapult you from one section of a song into the next. Lyrically, “Left Behind” leans into that notion of rebirth, as Balliett sings “I spent my twenties terrified / running out of places to hide / but came out on the other side / awake and wide-eyed.” He switches things up in each pass of the chorus, but the final burst of “it’s not too late, it’s not too late, my friend” feels like a mantra for the record that follows.

Spiritually a similar song to “Left Behind,” “So Long” is also one of the standout tracks on Bury The Dead. The 80s rocker finds Balliett reflecting on an anxious lifetime, recalling feeling foolish walking home after school as a kid and the instinct to hide away from the world. Both refrains hit melodically and lyrically, with the repetition of “never thought I’d be sad so long / never thought it’d be bad so long / but I guess I was / but I guess I was wrong” landing on how easy it is to stay in a rut once stuck there—months passing by to the point where saying something like “I’ve just been feeling off lately” becomes less and less believable. Before there’s too much time to dwell on that idea, a drum fill knocks you into the realization that “change comes slowly and life lasts such a short time / before I leave I think I’d like to live mine / change comes slowly and I’m still working toward a time / when I might feel fine.” 

The ghosts of the past that show up on “So Long” start to become more tangible with “Country Roads,” a track that begins with Balliett admitting the reason he never visits home is that he’s “not done getting away.” Again, the refrain is massive, with some crunchy guitar hits creating a heavy landscape for the lines “you know I left like the leaves / slowly after withering / or maybe burned on the lawn / at least I’m finally gone / I will return like the cold / I’m cradling in my bones / I see we’re both getting old / country roads leave me alone.” 

“Country Roads” pairs well with “Gone,” a gorgeous, swirling track that links back to the idea of loss, its swelling coda of strings and horns also forming a fitting intro to “Different Bodies,” the centerpiece of Bury The Dead. A track that starts with reference to a joke “about the 27 Club” that, against Balliett’s will, still comes to mind although the person who told the joke has joined the club themselves. It’s a gut-punch to kick off the song, but from there, Balliett and company use that raw emotion as the material to create something beautiful with the chorus of “we will live again, I know / in different bodies / working different part-time jobs / with different hobbies / and we will make it through this time / we will make it through this time” giving way to a guitar solo dripping in emotion.

A heart-thumping 80s jam, “Any Way I Am” feels like a slight breather after the intensity of “Different Bodies.” Here, sparse chords are left to ring out underneath an organ and shaker as Balliett sings about watching a sunset on TV to “let its rays wash over me / and reassure me that I am nothing.” In a fun musical turn, some island guitar lines lead to the final refrain where the televised sunset is replaced by a televised ocean, culminating in the final uplifting repetition of “reassure me that I am nothing.” It’s followed by the hazy train-platform-daydream of “Angelica,” a track that mires in some sludgy guitars before switching to some of the purest pop melodies on Bury The Dead.

While the ugliness of modern American life hangs over Bury The Dead, it’s generally channeled through avenues that are more personal than political, until “Pulse,” a song that both mourns the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings and also points a rightfully angry finger at the evil freaks who “spew the vilest nonsense” that leads to the type of hateful violence enacted that night in Orlando. The final lyrical image—delivered by Balliett at his angriest and gravelliest here—speaks for itself with the idea that “ruin comes at random / while you’re smiling, laughing / with your closest friends / there in the flickering of strobe lights / to the pulse of music / just wishing that the night would / never have to end…and then it ends.”

That moment of intensity is followed by a relatively calm sway as Balliett sings “everybody I know / is in Pittsburgh tonight / I’m gonna cancel my show / I want to cancel my life / and it’s not getting better / you were right” to kick off “Pittsburgh.” The penultimate track, it forms a natural pair with “So Long” on the opposite side of the record, both in the thematic similarities of being stuck with things refusing to get better, and in the fact that it is also one of the standout tracks on the record. There’s a bite to lines like “everybody I know is so sad” and “we’re gonna die in Hell / staring off into space / believing that it had to be  this bad,” but it’s softened by the smooth slide guitar that bursts through the mix a few times.

Closer “Memorial Day” begins as the most stripped-down here, with a focus on some lovely acoustic playing and a subtly gorgeous “Meeting Across The River”-style trumpet line from Dane Adelman (who played a similar role helping to close out Same’s Does It Go Any Faster?). A track that begins with being “undiagnosed at a young age,” the subsequent lyrical growth is echoed by a musical swelling, leading to Balliett’s ultimate triumphal vision, as he sings “I can see us / in the distance / rising from our beds / climbing from the holes we dug / and burying the dead” overtop of an almost ceremonial march that echoes the end of “Gone” on the record’s first half. The final image leaves you with the idea that Bury The Dead is less about banishing the ghosts you’ve amassed in your life to leave them behind, but rather, finally accepting those ghosts and the idea that they have something to teach you.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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