Long Range Hustle
I’m Alive, But Only If You Say I Am LP
While the nature of the album’s title seems inherently soft, on its face (most bands want to exclaim, “We are here,” but the title of Long Range Hustle’s sophomore full-length album seems to ask for the validation that most other bands just claim), there’s no question that I Am Alive, But Only If You Say I Am marks a tremendous step forward in Long Range Hustle’s development. In spite of the title, the ten cuts which comprise the album stand up boldly to be counted and never once shrugs off the desire to hold listeners’ attention or make a lasting impression on them. Even on first listen, the album’s earnest posture is undeniable but, on that same first listen, each of those ten songs register very well in the running and listeners will find that they’re hooked early before being pulled along happily by what they hear.
As soon as stylus touches down and catches groove and “Comeback Kid” opens the A-side of the album, listeners will find themselves fascinated by what they hear; Jay Foster’s synths fill a fantastic and vivid pool while AJ Fisico’s surprisingly propulsive drums push the song along forcefully, but the real talking point is Paul Brogee’s vocals. Here, Brogee manages to make an awe-inspired murmur sound sound far more infectious than Chris Martin has ever managed to do with Coldplay in tow (which still feels like a valid comparison), and the combination of these sounds is hypnotic until about two minutes into the song’s running – when, all of a sudden, the sound seems to spontaneously expand and get absolutely epic in scope. That’s when listeners will be unable to walk away from Long Range Hustle; they’ll be unable to move – frozen as they attempt to quantify what they’re hearing.
Now, the spell first cast by Long Range Hustle in “Comeback Kid” does falter a bit when “Wait Up For Me” stumbles with its “So so sorry” plaint and slightly gooier composition (a similar event happens on the B-side of the album when “Footnotes Re: Beeswax” and “Love Yourself” sort of trip awkwardly over each other), but the running recovers and actually begins to exceed expectation as “American Cash” pays pays some really handsome returns. There, Brogee and Foster find a way to come close to achieving Barenaked Ladies-inspired songwriting power, but also manage to duck the poppy cliches which have a habit of sinking BNL and arrive at a performance which is absolutely, positively incredible. Here, the instruments and vocals do not seek to overshadow each other, they simply work in tandem to produce the kind of song that most bands use as a business card; “American Cash” is the kind of song that anyone, anywhere would be proud to write, and should be.
Having found their way to genius, Long Range Hustle treads water for about five minutes to let “American Cash” sink in while “Used To Call” plays through with acoustic guitars and piano chops that no fan of Elton John will be able to turn away from to close the side. There, the band proves they’re not afraid to write or perform a startlingly good AOR single; the pianos power through along with a really good bass performance and Brogee comes along, missing the girl who used to call his name but still got away to present a cut which is pure ambrosia. On “Used To Call,” Long Range Hustle round all the bases and land at home plate with a strength that, when the needle lifts from the side, listeners will be aching for more.
…And, because it worked so well the first time, Long Range Hustle make very similar movements through the B-side of I Am Alive, But Only If You Say I Am; beginning first with the startlingly energetic tones in “Beeswax.” After first putting down some almost whimsical keyboards, bassist Mike Brogee pushes the song along masterfully in an almost “late Tragically Hip” kind of way and seems almost destined to have listeners stand up and cheer, as it plays. When the band talks about whispering happily because at least they’re getting some sleep, it feels ironic because nothing about this cut is yawn-inducing.
After “Beeswax” plants a flag for the band, they indulge in a bit of phoned-in filler with “Footnotes Re: Beeswax” (which feels like it should have ended a side – not appeared in the middle of one) and then touches on Christmas and claustrophobia on the closest to a throwaway cut on the album, “Love Yourself.” There, Long Range Hustle just plays too long with a “just okay” toy and then inserts a two-minute instrumental (“Marlbank”) which just doesn’t need to exist before finally closing the whole album down with “Election Night.”
There’s a sense of denouement about “Election Night” which leaves the cut playing like the last moments after a great exertion. There, every member of the band wrings the most powerful performance they can between lyrical stanzas which also feel like the last song that every bar wants to be playing after the lights begin to brighten at last call. The overall energy of the song is a little blurry as Brogee sings dry-eyed about giving up or giving in at a perfect mid-tempo which lasts a little too long at six minutes, but also feels energetic enough to have listeners who have run front-to-back with the record bright-eyed as the needle lifts.
…And that is the secret to I Am Alive, But Only If You Say I Am, in the end; the album is perfectly paced to not leave anyone worn out or over-exerted when the needle comes up in the end, and it’s very easy to just flip the album over to the first side again, reset the stylus and play through the whole thing again. In this day and age, it’s not possible to do that with many albums; sure, you might be happy to hear an album front-to-back more than once, but probably not right away. Not so with this one though; I Am Alive, But Only If You Say I Am does not feature any grand, dramatic peaks which can be exhausting, but a series of really good songs. It might sound odd, but that’s rare – and exciting, in its own way. [Bill Adams]
The I Am Alive, But Only If You Say I Am LP will be released in late February, 2022 on Sans Shoes/Anti-Fragile Records. Pre-order it here, directly from the band.