I first heard of Mike Mains & The Branches about two years ago when I caught a whiff of their single "Stereo" (Confession: they're probably the last band I have checked out based on something I heard on the radio). After I casually looked them up, I made the mistake of not delving into their first version of their debut album, Home. But after checking out the quartet from Gainesville, Texas again, I'll admit, I was missing out.
Although the band has the indie rock sound down, some of the tunes, like "Stereo," are radio accessible. The lead vocals are a bit more unique than usual, but the results of his voice take nothing away from the album. Upbeat, indie rock songs like "Matches" and "Stereo" are catchy and insanely smart and are outstanding bookends. "Stop The Car" isn't quite as clever, but it's a fun, upbeat track that quickens the pace of the album in the ideal spot. "Emma Ruth" acts as the album's true ballad, and the emotional song relies heavily on the piano before it rises to a stirring crescendo.
The other half of the album has a distinctly indie feel to it with elements of pop and rock added in. "Beneath The Water" is a more serious guitar driven song with the most aggressive vocals, while "Lady Love" is an enjoyable, laid-back, dreamy pop ballad. However, although "Rush You" has a solid start, its repetitive chorus is its undoing. The lack of creativity and the repetition in the refrain also doom "Love."
As good and imaginative as the music is throughout the album, the songwriting is probably better. The band often weaves a lot of points underneath their song's central theme. The band doesn't pull punches when pointing out our selfish personal lives when compared to our spiritual lives in "Miracle" ("Don't you know that your body is a temple?/… how bout you make a little room for me?"), while the singer in "Drifter" asks for redemption ("tear me down again and build me back anew/Rid me of myself and fill me up with you"). "Beneath The Water" and "Stereo" all have strong spiritual themes worth considering, and the band covers a couple of relational issues as well in "Stop The Car" and "Lady Love."
One of the more straight forward songs, "Emma Ruth," is about the singer's desire to see his loved one again in heaven while wishing he had additional moments on earth with her. The song is a reminder of both how this world is not our home, and how we should use our time with those we love wisely (I won't touch on the possible theological inconsistencies of the line "I will live to go to you").
If the album has one flaw, it's that I'm not sure there are too many songs on Home are flat out outstanding. For me, I'll play "Stereo" and "Matches" over and over, but the album is meant to be spun as a whole. And that's where the album succeeds. Any wrongdoing Mike Mains & The Branches commit, it's overshadowed by superb songwriting, both musical and lyrical. This re-release is one of 2012's best indie rock albums.- Review date: 8/14/12, written by Nathaniel Schexnayder of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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