Music Review: Slow Motion Commotion's 'The Day's Not Over Till You Fall Asleep'

Mar 8, 2016

Slow Motion Commotion
The Day’s Not Over Till You Fall Asleep

Sometimes it’s OK to be a little miserable.

Self-described folk-punk band Slow Motion Commotion’s The Day’s Not Over Till You Fall Asleep opens by kicking that premise, as the melancholy piano chords of “Cheer Up?” invoke what the singer really needs to change — and soon. Self-effacingly addressing his angst, Ian Johnson croons, “You’re an upper middle class white kid who went to Catholic School” (the “for Pete’s sake” is implied), and works through the realization that he just needs to be happier (“Your sadness isn’t beautiful”). By the end of the tune, the piano’s still blue but the band, in unison, is belting out a pledge to “Cheer up!” like a 2 a.m. beer-sloshed singalong.

The promise doesn’t hold. Or rather, it holds, but only precariously, for a moment or two at a time, with self-aware and funny tunes like “Hollow People Kings,” “Temple of Self-Deprecation, and “Off Brand Optimism.” Eventually, even the wistful smiles and anxious grins break into grim banjo drones, ominous violin, and songs like “Maudlin (Whiskey Words),” “Inheritance,” and “Do You Fear Death?” Somehow, there’s a lot of charm in a band that obstinately does exactly what it implies it shouldn’t.

This Kansas City band splashes a catalogue of acoustic styles across its second release, with Johnson playing banjo, piano and marimba, Shane Deaver providing guitar, mandolin and drums, and Taylor Gwin holding things steady on acoustic bass. The folk-punk genre, with styles as wide-ranging as The Pogues, Jonathan Richman, Beck, and Woody Guthrie himself, leaves the band room to play around … and work through issues.

Partially funded with an Indiegogo campaign, The Day’s Not Over… was recorded with a live, open-air, spontaneous sound — one snippet, “Interlude (Broad & Westport),” was recorded on that street corner — and reveals a band trying out a little bit of everything while it has the space. The sailor’s lament “As The Crow Flies” evokes The Decemberists as much as ancient sea shanties, and “Beezlebro” (one of the album’s unreserved smiles) tries out a rockabilly swing variation on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

In between, Slow Motion Commotion works through enormous ideas — getting old, dying, fear of love, fear of God — and poetic (and relatively unpunk) lyrics keep surfacing, like “Moonlit roads/seen a thousand times/like the bones that lead up to your knuckles” (“Moonlit Roads”). With that kind of adventurous, fearless sprawl, it’s inevitable that a few songs still feel like sketches, but they’re brave, messy, intricate, wall-sized sketches, and they’re worth parsing out.

“Hold On,” the closing song, ends with the refrain “Don’t let go. Stay awhile. Let me be your friend.” In real life, those needful requests are the more desperate and practical side of any “cheer up” mantra. The last found sounds on the album might be a party — lapping water, screeching Roman candles, and laughter. By then, Slow Motion Commotion has taken a long, circular route back to its initial question, but their answer is “Yes, of course — cheer up. Smile plenty. When you can.”

KCUR contributor Mike Warren has written for a variety of local and national music publications, including No Depression.  Follow him @MikeWarrenKC.