"Remembering the Rockets" starts in the middle of a familiar cycle. “The cars come by your house / It’s Friday night again,” and just like that and with a denser wall of guitars than Strange Ranger has known before, they’ve baked “Leona” in a nostalgic haze.
It’s the meet-up before the night out and the morning after, and in the next line he’s already wishing he could take some things back, “I miss the morning before it comes to me.”
But most critical and poignant in these opening lines, is when he sings without any venom in his voice, “I’ve given up love / I’ve given up wanting love.” It’s the kind of wistful reflection that can only exist without bitterness in late-teenage years, when you know his mind is going to change tomorrow.
What works about "Remembering the Rockets" is that Strange Ranger feel more than ever like they’ve found their sound, even as they’re looking further backwards and inwards. They don’t strive for angsty imitation like they did on "Rot Forever," when they were still known as Sioux Falls, but their sound is just as expansive as it was on that debut. They’ve managed to combine that era with their more introspective and humble previous LP, "Daymoon," to create something warm and tender and vital.
"Rockets" begins by combining boomer rock cliches with suburban neighborhood mystique. “Sunday's" opening chords could begin a Tom Petty song, but the nasal vocals and soaring synths bring it right back into a more indie rock sensibility.
Plus, lead singer Isaac Eiger sets “Sunday” off with a wimpy denouncement of some guy named Hugh, by saying that he’ll get along with him only if his friend really wants him to. Somehow, when Eiger ends the track by indulging himself (“I’m all alone in the world”) he still manages to sound hopeful. He just had to get the sour thought off his chest and see how silly it sounded out loud.
Strange Ranger let things breathe. They allow reflections to be aired without always offering a resolution. They look back so they may move forward. “Ranch Style Home” and “Beneath the Lights” feel the clunkiest, because they’re the most tortured musically and vocally. Eiger’s in full adenoidal-emo caricature on the former and ripping his voice to shreds on through distorted vocoders on the latter.
Strange Ranger don’t wear that torture quite as well when they’re not looking for a way out. But when they find time to look out into the sweeping cityscape depicted on the cover art, they succeed in sharing something for all of us. They find their own insecurities and paint them in full color, and with a path forward.
“In the future there is love / I tell myself when I wake up.” "Rockets" reminds us that self-worth is a continual process. And it’s honest about knowing that we seek improvement, not perfection, even as we get trapped in the same cycles every weekend.
"Music Mondays" is a weekly column run in conjunction with the University of Richmond radio, WDCE.
Contact contributor Conner Evans at email@example.com. Evans is the music director for WDCE.