Jack Antonoff has traveled the world as the guitarist for Fun, but it’s the memories of his upbringing in New Jersey that colors much of his music with Bleachers.
Embracing an aesthetic that thrives on the vivid, romantic sentiment of youth, Antonoff documents the heightened thrill and dismantling ennui of teenage life. Taking inspiration from the infinite sprawl of residential American neighborhoods, the groups name is a deliberate way of evoking images of the places that look like the one Antonoff grew up in. Their debut album, June’s Strange Desire, rides a wave of this type of suburban nostalgia, wrapping up the familiar in thematic, driving pop that is glossy without being unfeeling. And while visions of blue skies and green terrain are provoked, it doesn’t take the listener long to realize that the fruit from those trees are in a fixed state of deterioration. Pairing written verse detailing isolation and depression with blithe, galvanizing arrangements, Antonoff steers Bleachers towards the grand and bombastic. But the emotion is not lost in the luster, making the polish somewhat deceptive. The bright sheen of Strange Desire masks much darker underpinnings, deepening their music with personal recollections on the boredom and struggle of youth. And by cultivating an atmosphere that combines somber melancholy with bursts of intoxicating elation, the music portrays a time in life when the word “maturity,” is akin to a threat.
Performing at Philadelphia’s Festival Pier this past Saturday afternoon (08-02-14) the tracks on Strange Desire took on a toughness that differs from the subdued energies present on the record. The five-piece band included two drummers, magnifying the backbeat and enhancing the melodies with an unshakable punch. The murky shade that the album production casts was stripped away completely, eliminating spectacle and revealing the unfurnished foundations of the arrangements. And while the sonic oddities and dimmed pulse of the album generates a wistful, aching ambience, the bands performance draws out a sharper edge. Antonoff sang with clarity and strength, pushing “Rollercoaster,” and “Wild Heart,” forward with a muscle that mirrored the bands concentrated charge. Furiously roaming the stage, he engaged the crowd while amplifying the accelerated pace of the compositions. The same unbridled energy was present on the unexpected cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams,” and the high-spirited performance of Strange Desire’s hit single, “I Wanna Get Better.” But it was the gentle surf-pop of “Wake Me,” that stuck out the most. Nursing a quiet restraint, he pulled the microphone close, leading the audience through a haunting melody culminating with the words, “I can’t believe I captured your heart.” And by writing songs that depict his own coming of age, Antonoff also captures adolescent culture while playfully examining all of the exhilaration and devastation that go with it.
Article by: Caitlin Phillips