Dark Stars & Velvet Skies” by Burn the Ballroom
A vocal that has the kind of theatrical entrance on would expect to hear in a Broadway show isn’t exactly one that I normally think about hearing when I pop a fresh rock record on the stereo. Thus, when I encounter one with the kind of feeling that Burn the Ballroom uses as the centerpiece for songs like “10 to 1” off of Dark Stars & Velvet Skies, it sticks in my memory for a long time to come. “10 to 1” has a lead vocal that soars towards the heavens like it’s all that would make a difference in the universe in this specific moment in time.
It reaches through the speakers with its poetic warmth and, rather than assaulting us with a giant groove or monolithic guitar riff, joins us with the plush tonal joys of the piano keys, dancing in the backdrop to a bittersweet tempo. Dark Stars & Velvet Skies has some action right off the top in “The Long Way Down” that lives true to the hard-edged alternative rock roots their fans have come to love through the years, but overall I think there’s a little more heart in this record than the status quo ever would have called for.
“The Long Way Down” has the most forward lyrical structure of any track here, but it doesn’t have the most elaborate set of harmonies – that title belongs to “Still,” which is supported by a music video already out everywhere this summer season. “Still” thrusts and sways about with a heavy load on the backend, and as indulgent a mix as it’s sporting, I don’t see it as being all that excessive next to “Fall With Me.” You can travel a ways off of the beaten path if you’ve got the moxie, the melodicism, and the might in your voice to say something independent from what the dominant acts in your scene are, and Burn the Ballroom are the sort of group that doesn’t just have what their contemporaries have been looking for; they’ve actually raised the bar for themselves in the process of getting to this quintessential sound they’ve got in Dark Stars & Velvet Skies.
Whether it be the balladic rock of “Calm Down” or the more intricately wound “A Ship That Shared Your Name,” Burn the Ballroom’s latest could well be their greatest, and for reasons that often don’t apply when making an extended play. For one, there’s a meatiness of the storytelling in this record that made me feel like the content itself – and the creation thereof – represented a lot of catharsis for this group, especially coming out of what has been one of the tensest and most unpredictable times in the history of our modern industry.
They don’t leave anything out or hold back from each other in the least in this tracklist but instead do what they can to vent (and vent harder than most anyone around them has been willing to this year). Thiers is a good example for rock and, to a larger extent, all of us who made it through 2020.