Love songs and break-up songs are as much of the foundation of popular music as songs about dancing or rock n’ roll. Yet critics seem to have become numb to the timeless power of raw emotion, instead giving praise to lyrics concerning the current political landscape or poignant social commentary. There’s no doubting the value of such lyrics, but as listeners, the songs and albums that become the soundtrack to our lives are more often those whose hearts are pumping the blood of anguish and uncertainty.
Singer/guitarist/songwriter Leah Lane puts it all on the line. Vulnerable, yet unguarded. Resilient, yet damaged. The lyrical narrative running through Rosegarden Funeral Party’s first full-length album, Martyr, isn’t cliche, but rather quite rare. That’s to say, when done well, these aren’t songs you’ve heard a million times filtered through a previously unheard and heart broken narrator. These lyrics have the far too uncommon quality of honesty. The most important quality of any good song and the single quality that has been most diluted over time by the lesser talented and their contrivances.
Powered by a climbing bass line, synths, and a buzz saw guitar, album opener “Fade to Black” starts things off with a shining example of the bands songwriting skills. Tempos change to match the emotional arc of the lyrics, but also naturally serve the purpose of building tension to simply rock-out. But, the band doesn’t just run through the typical verse-chorus-verse parameters of song structure, but clearly knows their way around a carefully placed pre-chorus or bridge. “AMC,” “Never Coming Home,” and “Streetlights” are a couple of other examples of the bands well developed song craft and pop sensibility.
“Mirror’s Image,” with it’s staccato synth intro, showcases Lane’s clear and full vocal power. Her vocals soar as the other instruments crash together in rhythm. Things breakdown at the 3:10 mark before coming back together in a culmination of post-punk ferocity. The title track shows some anger in Lane’s voice and attacks hard on the chorus. “Pills” is a straight-up rocker that also shows the band are no delicate wallflowers. “Haven’t you taken enough of those pills to know better by now? Haven’t you taken enough, put me up on a cross, I should know better by now,” Lane sings as the push and pull of letting go and hanging on for dear life begins to subside into emotional reassembly. This is further heard on “Gaslighting,” where she sings, “I have nothing to apologize for, no I’m not sorry anymore.” Indeed, this isn’t just an album about heartbreak, but also one of putting the pieces back together. This uplift helps the album transcend redundant despondency and realize empowerment.
Certainly, comparisons can be made to the goth and post-punk legends that preceded the band, but that all seems pointless. Lane, bassist Wil Farrier, and drummer Dylan Stamas draw on their influences, but deliver something wholly inspired, not painfully derivative. It may be a studio recording, but the album perfectly captures the bands musicianship and high energy live performance.
If you’ve been following Rosegarden Funeral Party over the last couple of years, you already have this album. Indeed, the bands fast growing fan base is among the most devoted around Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth. Thus, it’s now your responsibility to pass this album on to your friends who have yet to drink from their cup. If you’ve yet to check the band out, their live show is an instant sell. Grab Martyr so you’re not the only one in the crowd who’s not singing along.
– J. Kevin Lynch