The beautifully simplistic music video for “They Want More,” the lead single off Ages and Ages’ new album Something to Ruin (out today on Partisan Records) depicts a slowly melting ice cream cone, seemingly symbolic of the mounting pressures and stressors also piling up around the young woman who is the video’s sole star. Only by eventually setting torch to the mountain of possessions does the woman seemingly free herself from their spiritual weight, and that in itself appears to be a metaphor for Ages and Ages’ perspective on Something to Ruin. It’s an incisive, passionate but calculated album of sonically adventurous choral pop that, while not quite as joyous as their 2014 head-turner Divisionary, displays every bit of the band’s trademark positivity.
The record was partially inspired by a trip that singer Tim Perry and bassist Rob Oberdorfer took through central America, where they visited indigenous ruins surrounded by the encroaching rain forest—“a tangible reminder of the impermanence of human civilization and the resilience of nature.” Back in their home of Portland, OR, though, Perry and co. drew parallels between one civilization’s collapse and their seeming distaste for Portland’s own gentrification, or what they refer to as “a frenzy of real estate development and lifestyle branding.” One could blow it off as a certain brand of millennial hipsterism, ‘ala “Portland just isn’t cool any more,” but Ages and Ages has always been a sincere act, and a listener with an open heart can likely empathize with their preference for the genuine and sincere over the cold and corporate, even if it seems a tad dramatic.
Fans who have followed Ages and Ages through Divisionary and their first album, Alright You Restless, will pick up on a few sonic evolutions. Synth sounds complement the expected keys on tracks such as “Something to Ruin” and “Kick Me Out,” both of which also feature chugging, almost proggy electric guitar breakdowns that cast a slightly darker specter. “Something to Ruin” in particular closes with a grandiose flourish, featuring a spectacular flute part lilting above the choral harmonies. A track like “So Hazy,” on the other hand, seems closer to the Ages and Ages of the past, with its at times sprechgesang vocals traded between Perry and backup singers Sarah Riddle and Annie Bethancourt—one of whom sounds oddly like Pomplamoose singer Nataly Dawn at times.
Still, if you’re wondering if anything on Something to Ruin can match the sheer operatic, feel-good anthem quality of Divisionary’s “Do the Right Thing,” the answer is probably no, not quite. This album is a little less emotional, a little bit more contemplative. It does have one great, soaring anthem in “As It Is,” though, a beautiful song with a full choir chorus that assures the listener “you’re gonna find your peace in anonymity.” One presumes they’re once again referring to the relative peace of leaving behind baggage and some form of infamy, rather than the prospects of the band itself. “As it is,” Ages and Ages is a musical project that still deserves to be far from anonymous.