American Film History / Be Content With Your Light, Child / April 2018, SubFamily Records
RIYL: Frightened Rabbit, Death Cab For Cutie, Matt Pond PA
Full disclosure: Frank and I have known each other a long time. I like to think of him as my musical pen pal–we get to see each other once every couple years if we’re lucky, but we chat all the time, and it never feels like much time has gone by. Without getting too mushy, he is one of the best guys you’ll ever meet, in this industry or otherwise. Pragmatic, genuine and passionate, being able to share the stage or “talk shop” with him is an absolute delight. Those of you that know him like I do, in any capacity, will very quickly realize that Be Content With Your Light, Child is the best thing Frank has ever done in his long, impressive career in the Hudson Valley–and I assure you there’s no bias behind that statement. For those of you that don’t know him, you’re about to get nice and intimate. What a treat.
If you will, allow me to do something unconventional and start by discussing the end of the record. “The Part Where I Go Missing” and “Dracula 2016” are gorgeous displays of patient, organic art with brilliantly arranged, diverse instrumentation. The latter especially takes its time to build before cascading into a climax of sound not once, but twice, with the assistance of an insanely catchy call-and-response group vocal melody, and the unexpected appearance of an instrument I don’t want to spoil for fear of ruining the chills it will undoubtedly induce. These two songs will have you mellow out, tap your feet, and get up and dance like Jim Hopper all in the span of 11 minutes. And yet, as good as they are, and as much as I love a stunning album closer, this somehow isn’t even the best part of the album.
In a rare twist for an indie-rock record, Be Content… really hits its stride in its midsection. Album highlight and my personal favorite, “Gut,” showcases Frank’s all-encompassing musical talents at their best. His voice has never sounded better, including while singing a goofy-yet-totally-genuine reference to Wile E. Coyote. The fact that that lyric works in a song that also includes a line like “Truth is a god we built from fear” is a testament to his knack for wordplay; McGinnis, quite frankly, sounds like a scholar befit for another time. In a similar fashion, “Other People’s Houses” reads like a hardcore song, rife with educated references to Twain and Kierkegaard (among others), despite having more in common with the indie rock and R&B styles most of the record wears on its sleeve. Somehow, he has found a way to combine elements like this in such a captivating way, that in a time when nothing feels all that original, Be Content With Your Light, Child kind of does.
And yet, there’s also something so Springsteen about McGinnis’ American Film History. These are songs about topics bigger than love or heartbreak. They are songs begging for answers about one’s place in the world, and accepting that not everything is within our control. Take lead single “Golden Mean” for example, which starts off asking, “Can I face what I am?”– which despite not technically being Track #1, is one of the best ways to properly kick off a record since Death Cab sang “So this is the new year and I don’t feel any different” almost 15 years ago. See also “Love Stories Don’t Move Me Anymore, Because Life is Harder Than Heartbreak” (a title he perhaps consulted with Pete Wentz on?) where McGinnis sings “I’m so sorry that I don’t believe in heaven / It must be hard to understand / And I’m so jealous that you can / I looked up and saw how everything could crush me / I buried my head down at first but hiding only made it worse,” the most poignant and striking lyric in one of the most powerful songs on the record. But every Springsteen fan–hell, every music fan–knows that an impressive lyric is nothing without an equally impressive delivery. Let’s just say, The Boss would be proud.
This is a lot to take in, I know. It’s a glowing review in a time when most critics and listeners prefer the opposite in hopes of getting more clicks. But, I kid you not, this is one of the best records that has hit my ears so far in 2018, and I expect that not to change much by the time we get to December. “Let me be a collection of stories that you’ll always love” McGinnis sings endearingly in the aforementioned “The Part Where I Go Missing” – well my dear friend, mission accomplished.