Quad Cities band Subatlantic’s new album Say It Again opens with a sparsely arranged synth/guitar/vocal thematic overture titled “Fate” asking, “What would you say if we tried today? / What would you say if we died today?” Every word counts, and we’re measured by how we use them.
“Fate” acts as the opener to “Critic,” a diatribe against someone who threw a figurative critical apple at the narrator (who is also compared to a furnace, burning everything down) and who gets dressed down by acerbic lyrics: “Just stay in your closet / make the world better.”
Rebecca Rice, Adam Kaul, Sean Chapman and Phil Pracht gathered in a cabin on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River for an intense few days in January 2022. The songs they wrote there would guide the next year and a half of the band. They recorded Say It Again with recording engineer Pat Stolley at the helm. The resulting album has a unified, cohesive feel.
Subatlantic’s signature anthemic post-punk sound is here in full force and at times recalls early Interpol. Drums and bass are on equal footing and provide the structure which the guitars, keys and vocals adorn. Yet there can be space between the parts; Rice’s vocals often pause between refrains, letting the rest of the music bloom.
On the album’s fifth track, “New Forms,” Rice’s soaring voice rides dynamically over marching drums and bass. The forest imagery in the lyrics — trees, leaves, mud — paint a picture of stumbling through the dense foliage of a relationship. The scrubbing guitar harmonics build to the crowd chorus, “All my best of / Intentions / Never could I / Hold on to you.”
The album wraps up with a high energy track titled “Veronica Speedwell” but to me the track before it, “Storm” — with its dreamy atmospheric vibe and its cleansing message of “Let’s get back to where we both grew up” — feels like the emotional finale of the album.
Still, with “Veronica Speedwell,” we get one more encore. One with a crashing, loose and frenetic vibe not found elsewhere on the album. The song’s narrator is calling someone out on their bullshit, reveling in personal drama. “You’d rather fall apart rather than keep it together.” Yet the narrator still is hoping for some redemption. “But, how long should I wait to leave you to your fate?”
This brought me back to the start of the album. Tempting as it may be to think that all of the songs are the same narrator since they use Rice’s voice, I wondered — in this context — is the narrator to “Critic” actually “Veronica Speedwell?”
On Say It Again, Subatlantic crafts an album of songs with a messy, unifying thread that stitches human relationships with attendant fear and darkness. But the album illustrates the optimism, too. As Rice sings in “Diner,” “We realize without our phones … / That we are people, humans with hope.”
This article was originally published in Little Village’s August 2023 issue.