Over only a handful of records, Mike Mains & The Branches have established themselves as one of the most consistently exciting indie rock acts currently active. From the raw yet catchy style of Home and Calm Down, Everything Is Fine, to the poppier approach of When We Were in Love, each album has harnessed current popular sounds and invigorated them with personal flavor and masterful songwriting. Memory Unfixed is a logical progression of that formula that may represent a new musical peak for the group. A similar mixture from the previous album of electronics and guitar drives most tracks, but with a new level of richness. Layers of synths wash the album with an airy sense of nostalgia that perfectly complements the lyrical directions present throughout.
The album kicks off with "Lost Boys," perhaps the band's most anthemic track to date. It's an ambitious start, but functions well to set the stage for a track list that bounces between high energy tracks like "We're Alive" and "If We Run," that seem sonically ready for mainstream radio, and darker shoegaze adjacent songs like "Losing My Head" and "When The Lights Go Out."
Whether addressing personal, relational, or spiritual topics, the honest simplicity and directness of the group's lyrics have always been a core component of their appeal, and the four years since When We Were in Love have provided plenty of subject matter to address. Somewhat paradoxically, Memory Unfixed is simultaneously both the most introspective and externally focused record to date for the band. "Losing My Head" captures both threads as it reflects not only on the existence of external political, racial, and theological controversies in recent years, but the internal questioning about how to feel and respond, and even the feelings of real or perceived isolation that can arise as a result. Elsewhere, "When The Lights Go Out" takes a look at abuse (and responses to abuse) in the church in a way that is appropriately weighty and challenging, but also shows care and tact for sensitive listeners.
While the darker tracks rarely offer answers to the questions or pain they raise, they exist surrounded by others filled with light and hope. "If We Run" and "Blue Lagoon" showcase the band's penchant for storytelling with sweet tales of devotion and conviction that feel especially cathartic in the context of the previous album's relational turbulence. Located almost perfectly in the middle of the album, the musically restrained "Better Than It Ever Was" offers perhaps the album's most direct exhortation: "There's no safety in the shadows / Soon the light will drive out the old ghosts / Sometimes you gotta raise your voice / For the broken ones who never had a choice."
Memory Unfixed is a deceptively weighty album. With 10 tracks covering barely a half-hour, the light and catchy sound can allow the album to drift by in a brief but pleasant blur. Being such a polished and well-constructed album makes it one of the easiest listens of the year. But if you pay attention to the lyrics or start to dive deeper into the sonic terrain, the thematic and musical scope of this record brims with rich material worth revisiting over and over. It's hard to pick out even minor gripes. In most cases, a four-year gap between releases with such a short runtime would probably be disappointing, but even that works in this album's favor. Each song feels memorable and unique, with absolutely no filler to be found. While the highest musical points of the album definitely come in its darker moments - and hopefully introduce a sound the band will continue to explore in the future - the brighter and more upbeat songs still easily exceed the high standard the band has set previously.
For existing fans, this album offers a delightful return, and provides a compelling entry point for new fans. It's rare for a band to simultaneously perfect their prior sound and also evolve it into something even stronger, but that is exactly what Mike Mains & The Branches have done on Memory Unfixed.- Review date: 10/6/23, written by Kevin McGuire of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Tooth & Nail Records
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