Album Review: We Never by We Never
This review was originally published in Dust-Up Magazine on June 16th, 2017 for the “RVA Bandcamp Of The Week” column.
Familiar and fascinating. Intimate and inquisitive. The new self-titled EP by Carter Burton’s We Never project is a terse collection of pulsating rock songs that create a very special sonic experience for listeners, one highly dependent on which side of the coin grabs you more: the lyrics or the music. Luckily, Burton is quite skilled in both areas on this release, ambidextrous almost. While your first few listens may have your thoughts wrapped around the reflective words, the quality of the music will shine through on later listens, especially as you pick apart the moving pieces in each song’s background. Despite its brief runtime, We Never has enough captivating moments to fill up hours of listens, and even then, there’s still more to be found here.
Lyrically, the EP reads like an internal therapy session as Burton ponders the context of his feelings and interactions, whether by asking question after question like on “Magic River” or by using memories to indirectly interrogate more recent occurrences like on “A+.” “Is it the saddest mistake that I have ever made to say that I don’t care,” he asks on “Run,” a back-and-forth song that answers his own queries with dismissive phrases like “maybe I just forget.” It may seem anti-climactic, but it fuels the penetrating feel of the record. “Run” is not an isolated moment either — the line of questioning on We Never doesn’t lead to definitive answers and that’s okay. It’s actually the most endearing and genuine aspect of this release. Life isn’t full of black-and-white solutions, something this EP seems to know all too well. But looking inward at times, as this EP freely does, you might lead yourself to some peace of mind in this world, or at least a little bit closer to the answer you need. The good news on this EP is that by the end, Burton finds some piece of mind as he explains on “Six Dots.” “I lay on my back and place my hat over my face / Six dots of light shine through.” A fleeting moment, sure, but one the album truly hinges on as it sends the listener out on a high note.
While the lyrics seem to look inward, the music gloriously looks outward, albeit in a subtle way. The garage feel of the record matches the lyrics and vocals perfectly, but some might find the music extremely of its time, with a minimal approach to production and recording. To those people though — listen closely and you might find a wealth of callbacks to interesting moments in rock history. Intentional or not, these moments bring life and color to an offering of songs that drift between anxiety and release, though never complacent. The morose cadence of “Doubt” feels like an indirect descendent of “Last Night,” while “Six Dots” explores the glorious chord breakdown of “The Card Cheat” in a more subdued manner. The background organ (or synthesizer?) of “Run” washes over you with ’60s warmth, in the same way songs like “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and “Gimme Some Lovin’” do, though obviously in a much different manner. All of this is to say that while this music may seem tailor-made for a specific niche, there are plenty of callbacks and even inventive melodic moments that cement its wide-reaching appeal.
Looking at this EP from both sides, it’s hard for songs to stand out. The lyrics of one song might strongly speak to you one listen, while the next listen might see another song’s melody become especially moving. Hard-pressed though, “A+” always comes back around as a highlight of the record with its hazy garage sound, strong story, and perhaps the record’s most compelling vocal moments. Every great quality of the record is found in its 2:24 runtime. But walking away from We Never and thinking about a “stand-out” moment defeats the purpose of the listen. With the brevity of the songs and the feeling of shared lyrics and melodies, the record should be digested as a single offering, and luckily can be thanks to its succinct length. While each song may hone down on something specific, it’s all adding to the bigger picture, one that again leaves you on a high note with dots of light shining through. This time though, that moment’s not fleeting because you can always hit play once more.