The Chairman Dances has put out one of the best indie rock records of 2018, an album that’s simultaneously more grandiose and more intimate than their previous recordings.
Child of My Sorrow is the sixth full-length album from Philadelphian musicians known as The Chairman Dances, and it is their third release with Daniel Smith (of Danielson) in the producer’s chair. The band continues in their established style of lyrics-focused, narrative-driven songwriting set to preppy, meticulously arranged indie rock. However, there are moments in Child of My Sorrow where they almost feel like a different band.
This album can almost be described as a series of beautifully woven vignettes of mental breakdowns. From the opening panic attack of “Acme Parking Garage” to the two-sided tale of abuse and abandonment in “Out of the Lion’s Den, Into the Lion’s Maw,” there is definitely sorrow aplenty. Though Eric Krewson’s vocal style and lyrical tone still sometimes come off as overly cool and detached, the stories in these songs feel much more intimate and relatable. The band has left behind the explicitly named narrators of yesteryear (both fictional and historical), and it’s clearly a move for the better. By centering their lyrics on more general, isolated plotlines rather than adhering to an obvious continuing narrative, The Chairman Dances feels closer than ever.
Thanks to their developments in musical stylings, the band also feels more alive than ever. In a press release, Krewson notes that adding an additional keyboardist dramatically impacted the sound of Child of My Sorrow, and he couldn’t be more right. From the surface, this is the most obvious difference, and it takes The Chairman Dances to new heights. “Acme …” feels grander than any song released by the band thus far, thanks to these swelling synths. The gently optimistic “Iridescent” feels atmospherically richer thanks to the complementary keys. In the more uptempo cuts, the percussion is delightfully kinetic, frequently employing handclaps, glockenspiel, and tambourine. While past records have taken a similar approach to percussion, it really seems to pop here.
WATCH: Eric Krewson has a breakdown at a grocery store in the video for “Acme Parking Garage”
No song brings together these musical elements better than the record’s centerpiece, “A Half-Mile from Allentown.” The song begins with a two-minute musical introduction before the vocals kick in over the best synthesizer and guitar tones of the whole album. Equal parts dreamy and uneasy, the song churns along through a narrative of a couple deciding to skip town on a whim. It ends in another instrumental passage that features a saxophone solo over improvisational percussion, which eventually gives way to the underlying current of layered synths.
The number of criticisms I can level against this record is small. While not necessarily a negative quality, it is worth noting that The Chairman Dances isn’t a very hook-y band. If you’re looking for indie rock with “whoah-oh” sing-along choruses, you best look elsewhere. The band’s lofty ambitions can make them a bit difficult to access, and sometimes their penchant for detailed lyricism makes the songs harder to access emotionally.
For listeners looking for a thoughtful exploration of heartache, Child of My Sorrow is an essential listen. The lyrics are intimate and immediate, and the production appropriately amplifies the emotion of the songwriting. If you weren’t watching The Chairman Dances before, you certainly should now.
Child of My Sorrow is available now on digital, CD, or limited cassette on Black Rd. Records. Stream and purchase it below. The album is also available on all major digital music outlets.