Two Thirty Eight – You Should Be Living

Two Thirty Eight
You Should Be Living

It is one of those enigmas of music when dark and downtrodden songs that conjure gloomy images of despair and of social and personal dysfunction can creep into your soul and light the lanterns of hope and inspiration, uplifting your spirits by offering some meaningful insight into the human condition, however sad and disabled. It’s an awkward feeling, this optimism by way of negativism, but it is a feeling that is engendered by many luminaries of modern rock, such as Radiohead, SDRE, and Bright Eyes. While it would be premature to include Pensacola, Fla’s Two Thirty Eight into that impressive gathering of musical heavyweights, their latest offering, You Should Be Living, goes a long way towards proving that the indie/emo rock quartet have genuinely arrived.
Listening to this dazzling LP is like driving across a long and lonely stretch of deserted foggy highway or watching the dreary haze of a misty rain stretch itself across a barren field. There is a pervasive sadness and a weary isolation that resonates throughout, but there is also something oddly spiritual – a stark beauty that hints at something more profound and compelling lurking beneath the surface.
What makes Two Thirty Eight’s music so unique and promising is the surfeit of styles and endless parade of influences they employ, blending incendiary post-punk with arrhythmic jazz grooves, melancholic slow-core, blues-tinged psychedelia, and the occasional flash of county twang. In lesser hands this amalgamation of music would surely create one great convoluted and tangled mess, but these guys handle it with confidence and ease, cranking out one great tune after another. Take, for instance, their glorious opener, the haunting and hypnotic “Modern Day Prayer,” echoing with the gratifying swell of swirling guitars, fluid bass, and military-style marching drums a la SDRE, while vocalist Chris Staples examines the evidence of our collective moral disillusion with convincing and welcome lucidity. That is followed by the tense and taut “The Sticks Are Woven in the Spokes” with its anthemic chorus teetering on the edge of explosion, the bouncy, brooding power pop of “Forty Hour Increments” and “I Pretend to Choke,” as well as the acoustic alt-country stirrings of the chilling “Romancing the Ghost.” And as a changeup, there’s the fierce, angular pyrotechnics of ”That Sad and Holy Glow, ” which finds drummer Dylan Roeper utterly abusing his kit with his thunderous pounding while guitarist Kevin Woerner and bassist Ken May edge him along with their thick and prodding riffs.
To his credit, Staples’ tortured laments and social misgivings never come across as whining or ego-stroking self-absorption. Instead, his warm and compelling voice offers a somber and sobering assessment of an all-consuming American culture slipping into disinterest and decay. There is a narrative quality to his lyrics, an element of folksy storytelling that is reminiscent of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, especially on such standout tracks as the eerie and spectral “Romancing the Ghost” and the harrowing “Step Into the Light.”
You Should Be Living stumbles a bit at the end with the sluggish ” Rhythm and Blues” and the anti-climactic closer “The Bathroom is a Creepy Place for Pictures of Your Friends,” but overall this is a triumphant release with wonderfully varied colors and textures, interesting arrangements, and stellar production from James Paul Wisner (Dashboard Confessional, Further Seems Forever). With any luck, this will be the stepping stone that Two Thirty Eight have earned with such a marvelous outpouring of creative passion. But the music world is fickle and it may be that the group will falter and fade into obscurity, which would be a tragedy indeed, because You Should Be Living is a terrific record and by all accounts, you should be listening.