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“The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know,” Evan Braswell sings on “So Confused,” the final track on Lilac Daze’s self-titled debut album. For an album that centers on lost innocence and growing pains, this closing lyric serves as a helpful conclusion. It’s a kind of SparkNotes version of what the indie-punk band has taught us: Things are complicated, and sometimes the only way out of a frustrating phase is living through it.
Lilac Daze is the Frederick, Maryland trio’s first full album, released by New Jersey label Black Numbers, which also released the band’s EP Sedated in 2014. There’s an enthusiastic embrace of diverse influences on Lilac Daze. The band draws on ’90s indie rock, 2000s pop-punk, and contemporary lo-fi. The snarling narration and charged interplay between bass and guitar on “Glow In The Dark,” for example, give off some serious Pixies vibes, while on “Wrought Iron Fence” and “Null and Void,” big pop-punk guitars and hooky choruses are reminscent of Weezer and Green Day’s early glory days. Midway through the album, “Rat’s Nest” provides a textural instrumental break before launching back into a shout-along-worthy pop-punk track.
Between Sedated (and the string of demos and self-released EPs that came before it) and Lilac Daze, the band’s sound has matured, but not over-ripened. Lilac Daze’s 10 tracks bounce through genres with an adolescent enthusiasm, but there’s a sense of continuity throughout the album. Where the jump between a harsher punk track and a melodic indie song may have been jarring on the band’s previous EPs, this album allows them more space to breathe and more time to find their footing.
But there’s a good reason for all the sonic sporadicity: The band’s three members—guitarist Braswell, bassist Patti Kotrady, and drummer Matt Henry—are best friends who take balancing each other’s interests pretty seriously. As such, all three members of the band also sing and write lyrics, and while the overall themes are consistent, each writer’s voice becomes evident upon close inspection. Braswell’s songs speak vividly of uncertainty and melancholy (take, for example, “Cue the end to my hopeless grandeur vision/ There’s no silver lining in inherent indecision” from “Null and Void,” or “The holy ghost and the civil war/ And biblical folklore/ Happy hour on the weekday/ Which path will I take?” from “Future Unknown”). Kotrady’s songs feel intimate, painting portraits of particular moments. On “Lonely Eyes” she sings: “In this room we lay as trees/ deep rooted without any leaves/ You stare at me emptily until you fall asleep and forget me.” Henry brings a sense of bitter annoyance: “I’m just a fucked up kid/ Trapped in a fucked up man,” he hollers on “Glow In The Dark.” Whether directly or metaphorically—and despite their disparate authorship—the lyrics coalesce around a sense of anxiety and frustration most millennials know too well.
The sense of camaraderie that animates the band is infectious and the songs’ tight-knit sounds never privilege one member over the others. Though the lyrics often touch on dark themes, the album’s youthful energy feels gleeful—the way, perhaps, collaborating with your close friends is supposed to feel.
Even if many of the songs are about the inherent confusion of growing up and dealing with your feelings, Lilac Daze reminds the listener that it’s nice to have friends around to help you through it.