Monday, December 30, 2013

The Maine Plays Imaginary Numbers

John O'Callaghan
After the Tempe, Arizona, quintet The Maine released its well-crafted roots rock album Forever Halloween last year, few people could guess where they might land next. The answer come out a few days ago with a newly released, sparsely populated EP called Imaginary Numbers.

The entire affair is largely lighter than anything the band has put out in entirety. There isn't a single rock number among the five tracks. They are tender acoustic ballads that couch confessional lyrics about loneliness, depression, and being crushed under the weight of the world.

In sum, it sounds like a bittersweet departure from the pop punk and alternative rock beginnings of the band into an alternative singer-songerwriter acoustic stint that is punctuated with anguish. There is no one better to tell it than John O'Callaghan whose even-tempered vocals share stories that I suspect most people can pinpoint as pages right from their own lives. I know I can.

Imaginary Numbers plays to the phantoms in your head. 

That said, it doesn't make much sense to review the EP from the top. The middle is a much more meritous open with Visions, a track that captures the simultaneously comforting and claustrophobic nature of the careful and contemplative EP.

Simply put, Visions is a track about waking up to the pain that the person you love is gone. And your only recourse, even if it doesn't deal you anything better than being miserable even longer, is to lay your head back down and pretend they are still there.

No, there isn't anything wrong with replaying all those good and bad memories in your head. But what makes the whole thing begin to feel uncomfortable is the realization that you can't hide from the truth forever. Nobody can keep thrusting their head deeper under the covers forever.

It's an interesting place where The Maine has decided to take its fans this time around. None of the five tracks have any resolution. From the opening to the end, everything about Imaginary Numbers is about gray days and loneliness.

Raining In Paris is another example of the restrained tension The Maine is able to capture with remarkable accuracy. As O'Callaghan conveys, it doesn't even matter where you are when you can still feel the rain and pain of what you once had.

When coupled with the quiet foundations of Pat Kirch (drums), Kennedy Brock (guitar), Garrett Nickelsen (bass), and Jared Monaco (guitar), it paints a bleak but not unsurmountable emotion in your head — that place between being in pain and moving to whatever might come next in life. And yet, at the same time, there is always this hesitancy to leave it all right.

The balance of the tracks — Room With No Windows, Perfectly Out Of Key, and Lovely Sad are equally miserable. Lovely Sad is a haunting, folksy lullaby. Room With No Windows is tortured against a background that balances a ballroom funk against a painful and hypnotic pout. Perfectly Out Of Key nearly celebrates the sadness weighing down their souls.

Imaginary Numbers By The Maine Rakes 5.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's the relentlessness of being able capture the tenor of uneasy feelings and overthinking that makes The Maine one of the most listenable bands out there. The only down side is trying to figure out when, where, and how anyone would want to listen. If you're not in a depression over any demons you left behind, you might be by the pass.

And it's because of it that this EP might be best listened to mixed into some brighter bits from the band's earlier albums. Maybe. There is something to be said for letting your head swim. I guess.

Imaginary Numbers by The Maine can be found on Amazon. You can also download the EP from iTunes. The band is currently on tour with a big schedule starting in the Philippines before picking up again on the West Coast. For complete details, including a big Tempe reunion on Feb. 7, visit the band on Facebook.
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