The idea of isolation is becoming a commonality in cultural commentary, specifically for younger people who have never lived in a world without screens. For better or for worse, the warmthless glow of Netflix, Instagram, or Reddit has taken a sizeable bite out of face to face interaction. Even when we do get face time with one another, the impact of social networks and our abundance of media is inescapable (I spent most of my time at a recent Christmas party talking about how, as we get older, the draw of Netflix and a home cooked meal seems to win out over going out most nights). The sociological impact of these changes is difficult to gauge, but I’ve Been Keeping to Myself, the newest record from local band Overslept, stands out as an interesting cultural and social touchstone for the idea.
The album gives voice to a profound loneliness that seems to be more and more common. This is not necessarily a new idea, similar points came out of the growth of American cities, but now we’re getting lost in much larger crowds. If our grandparents and great grandparents could barely deal with feeling isolated among a million strangers, how are we to stand a chance with the billions of people on the internet?
This phenomenon has not been lost on the guys in Overslept. On a promo video on their Facebook page, lead singer Elias Armao says, “I’ve Been Keeping to Myself is a record about trying to figure out why loneliness isn’t always remedied by company, and where else it comes from besides a physical isolation.”
This weird tension between physical and emotional company is at the heart of the record. The album’s highlights, of which there are many, really hammer home the idea. Musically, the band is reminiscent of mid-2000s indie rock and emo. The songs wind between Take this to Your Grave era Fall Out Boy and Death Cab for Cutie, but with enough instrumental and vocal complexity that the album sounds fresh and contemporary. However, where earlier bands lean more toward melodrama, Overslept sounds melancholy and isolated. Fall Out Boy’s best songs were about being emotionally connected to someone who was not physically present. This album profoundly turns that problem around in a way that is quintessentially 2015 – what happens when the people you care about are present physically, but emotionally distant?
The result is an album that is more understated, but no less profound or emotionally relevant. My favorite song on the album, and easily one of my favorite tracks this year, “Intro to Cultural Anthropology” deals with a songwriter who finds himself unable to break through cliched conversations and technological barriers to make a genuine connection with the people around him. Armao sings, in impressive falsetto, “This is a catatonic social scene/ironically build on reductive conversation/where no one says the things they mean/so in the end nobody really says anything,” before pleading, “So stop trying to look pretty and just talk to me.” The song is brimming with energy, and there is a genuine intensity at the end that really lends a lot of emotional weight to the message.
Other songs on the album highlight that this problem with intimacy is not exclusive to other people. Another standout track, “Shouldered,” features a slow build that alternates between a desire for affection and a fear of it. The chorus clearly states, “I want to want you/I just never want to need you,” before climaxing with the realization that, “I guess I’m still deciding what kind of man I am/because I don’t know why I came here, but I came anyway.” The contradiction is telling; even though some songs seem to be reaching out for any possible contact, other songs realistically recognize that even in the best of situations it can be terrifying to let someone in.
It is my opinion that the best art is indicative of the time period in which it was created. By this standard, I’ve Been Keeping to Myself is one of the best albums of the year. Overslept has created an album of songs that are jarring, emotional, and relatable. Beyond that, their music expertly toes the line between complexity and accessibility – featuring punchy choruses, adept guitar lines between verses, and some really impressive vocal work. This is an album that is really easy to fall in love with, and the fact that the band is coming up through the Denver scene only makes that fact more exciting.