One minute into the opening track on ‘At This Age’, and Signals Midwest’s Max Stern is already getting dewy-eyed about the past, talking of taking the bikes down to the river and building a home. It’s nostalgic, sentimental stuff, enough to make you contemplative and reflective, but played with such urgency it will make your heart burst with positivity.
Stern’s eager to call on evocative phrases and times to capture this wistful, exciting feeling. The first kiss after coming home from war – a real crowd pleaser, but beautiful in the context of the buzzing ‘Should Have Been a Painter’ – just one of example of Stern’s willingness to delve behind closed doors and tell fleeting stories of love, loss and regret to get his point across.
And while ‘At This Age’ is wrapped up in issues of age, it’s an entirely relatable topic. If, like me, you’re fast approaching your mid-30s, ‘West Side Summer’ and the recall of ‘Who I Was Before We Met’ will make you long for the days when summer’s seemed to last forever and chance encounters could leave a life-long impression.
It’s frequently excellent too. ‘Song for Ana’ has just the most wonderfully heart-breaking first few lines there’s a real chance it could leave you a sobbing mess. Yet it’s knowing too; “I get obsessed by distance”, sings Stern, mindful that earlier in the album he was singing ‘We Drive Forever Like It’s Nothing’. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition, bringing things full circle in an album obsessed with time and place.
Elsewhere, the title track, tinged with the regret of missed opportunities and the failure to take chances is grounded in realism; set against the background of frequent tours and a life on the road, it feels like an extension to James Joyce’s ‘Eveline’ or Thomas Chandler (‘A Little Cloud’) – characters with big plans but plagued by self-doubt and ties to home. “Always thought at this age I would be settling into a major city. Always thought at this age I would be further than I am now,” Stern attests, realising the pull of home and the desire to do more with life than just exist. It feels like a companion piece to the similarly grounded ‘Should Have Been a Painter’, again, just another excellent example of how Stern’s a master at tying all the threads together.
It all means that ‘At This Age’ is one of those rare gems; a wonderfully literate, almost bookish, indie-punk record. It’ll have you punching the air and singing along instantly, but you could spend years analysing and dissecting the poetic lyrics.
’At This Age’ by Signals Midwestis out now on Tiny Engines.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)