I wake but layers of a dream
Lay over everyone I see
But how is it so, my world looks different now but no one knows?
—”As Above, So Alone”
As I look back at other music reviews I’ve written, I’ve noticed that I’m not particularly in support of bands changing their sound. In my defense, the alternative/indie/emo scene that I tend to obsess over is rife with examples of bands making ill-advised artistic choices from which they never really recovered. The problem is that some bands will often abandon the style they established in their first albums as if originality and charm are only functions of experimentation (i.e. new/different is always good). One of the few bands I follow religiously to defy this trend is Florida’s Copeland.
As with most things worth investing in, it’s all about the quality of the components and Copeland is made with such high caliber pieces that they are hard pressed to make a misstep. To begin, you have to recognize that Aaron Marsh is shockingly talented. Marsh’s angelic voice and innovative piano work since Beneath Medicine Treehas always pushed Copeland above and beyond the pack of early 2000s emo. Pair Marsh with the atmospheric and mood-setting guitar work of the Laurenson brothers and you’ve got a team whose discography is damn-near perfect. Enter 2019’s Blushing, the crown jewel of Copeland’s post-Eat, Sleep, Repeatperiod (and perhaps their best album of all time).
This album makes similar moves forward between albums as the shifts between Bon Iver’s Bon Iver and 22, A Million. 22, A Million managed the near-impossible feat of capturing Justin Vernon’s growth as a producer and songwriter while simultaneously playing to the strengths established in Bon Iver’s self-titled. Similarly, Blushinghas all the hallmarks of a great Copeland album. While the song structures present on tracks like “Pope,” “As Above, So Alone,” and “Night Figures” push the Copeland sound to new and exciting heights, no amount of swirling electronic piano or mood-setting samples can change the fact that Aaron Marsh has one of the most gorgeous voices in indie rock and, golly, does the guy still got it. The Bon Iver comparison begins to not hold up as well when considering how 22, A Million fragments the lush, pastoral cohesion of 2011’s Bon Iverinto distinct crystalline shards. Blushing, on the other hand, is as cohesive, or more, as an album as 2014’s incandescent reunion album Ixora. This is really one of Copeland’s most special qualities— experimentation actually highlights the band’s inherent qualities. Rather than demonstrating what they’re capable of if you make them do something different, Copeland somehow becomes moreCopeland the more you trace the threads in the complex web of their discography.
While I wouldn’t necessarily call Blushinga concept album, this is perhaps the closest the band has ever come since 2005’s brilliant, exuberant In Motion to committing to a theme. For Blushing, Copeland makes sure that you’re aware at all times that this is night music, not nightlifemusic, but rather the music of sleep and dreams, the little romances that develop as in the slivers of consciousness between waking and sleep. Marsh’s voice and lyricism have always walked this line, allowing his listeners to forgive the occasionally saccharine nature of his love ballads when they’re built on such gorgeous and elegant images (the title and the excellent tracklist for 2009’s You Are My Sunshine come to mind). Structurally, the songs on Blushingalso make room for ruptures, silences, and emotional spiraling (the end of the first track: “This world is not real” and the end of the last track “Waltzing on the water now”) This is really where Blushing excels. The dreamy quality of the instrumentation and imagery is further accentuated by sounds of static, echoes, and even a spoken word section in the opening track “Pope” (“What did you dream?” “Did you dream about anything?”). The surreal half-light of Marsh’s lyrics and Copeland’s music is actually what sells the authenticity of the longing in these songs and I dare anyone to not feel things while listening to this album. Blushing is a refreshing reminder that you can write about love and yearning in lush, broad, purple strokes without inciting cynicism or boredom. Despite the themes woven so deeply throughout the album, Blushingis a gorgeous reminder that the heart never sleeps.