It’s often said that a lot of American musicians are true Anglophiles, such as Las Vegas’ Brandon Flowers, who fell in love with the 80’s sounds of the Pet Shop Boys and the Smiths, and Billy McCarthy can be added to the list of those who have fallen in love with the isles of the United Kingdom. This Is Your Life, Augustines’ third record, has its roots firmly put in the synth sounds of the 1980’s, and rather than act as a complete overhaul of the rock and roll sound of before, add new subtleties to their music, and provide an added exhilaration to McCarthy’s brand of late-night Whisky bar confessionals.
Lead single for the record, ‘Are We Alive?’, is a track designed to make people feel good about the simple joys music brings to the masses; the ability to sing your heart out and to make your feet move. The video (filmed in Bristol-a further nod to McCarthy’s love of the UK), showcases local character ‘Big Jeff’, who’s dancing to the track embodies all that McCarthy is exuding-a love of bringing joy to people. McCarthy’s cry-“Are we alive, or are we just kidding ourselves?” kicks off the record, and sets the listener up for what is one of the best 40 minutes of music that will be released in 2016.
Synth-beats lead to the opening of ‘When Things Fall Apart’, McCarthy’s voice again taking centre stage amidst a kick-drum beat which is guaranteed to bore its way into the brain and act as a constant earworm. ‘The Forgotten Way’ utilises strings, and sees the band experimenting with a drum machine, before leading into ‘Running in Place’, the record’s stand out track, and perhaps the best track Augustines have released to date. Containing all the band’s traditional hallmarks (heartfelt lyrics, a chorus to be bellowed back at the band, a guitar line to make you dance), the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of Pape and Cheikh give the track hymnal qualities. There are musicians who would be lambasted for making music like this, but Augustines pull it off. There is something about McCarthy that transcends the music to make a connection with the listener.
The rest of the record keeps up the high standard, culminating in the jangly keys of ‘Days Roll By’, a full blown homage to the aforementioned 80’s period, with a chorus so big it deserves shoulder pads of its own. Ostensibly a paean to a lover left behind – the protagonist sees himself in a club, with his “hands in the air” and his “eyes on the floor”, lamenting how “broken hearts come and go”. It is a great end to the record.
Are we Alive? As long as we can still find joy in music, and in dancing, and in singing along, then yes. The thrill of the kick-drum, the rush as the guitar comes in, and the adrenaline felt as the chorus reverberates around the room. Augustines prove that there is no finer feeling than this.