Album Review: Subatlantic — ‘Villains’

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Subatlantic is not a band that would be described as impatient. Although they have been together since 2009, playing occasional gigs that secured their place on the Quad Cities music scene, they just released their debut EP, Not Louder, But Closer, in 2015.

You can hear the genesis of their new album Villains on the EP — in fact, two of the songs come from it — but Villains is a more focused, polished effort.

The architecture of the songs leave big spaces between each instrument. The huge reverb on this album implies a church-sized room without sacrificing the intimate nature of the songs. The big and chiming bell tones of the guitars provide the musical melody as well as the countermelody to Rebecca Rice’s reaching and often vulnerable soprano.

Adam Kaul’s lead guitar provides solo arpeggiated runs, but never breaks into lick-and-riff guitar cliché. The rest of the band provides surrounding musical embrace to Rice’s emotional testimony, but it also lifts her to center stage.

Track four, “State of the Birds,” is a perfect example. The big chorus is crepuscular fingers of light through the clouds lifted by harmonies that sound inspired by 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love.” “And, anyway, who will take the fall for this one?” Rice sings. “You persist with the questions only you can answer.”

“Subatlantic” references the current geologic age within the Holocene epoch. This is when humans industrialized — the peak of both our ability to innovate and the resulting ecological crises. That appreciation of the ironic and sadly poetic perspective of human evolution is a fitting label for their art, which has echoes of the alternative invasion in the early ’90s — Throwing Muses, Belly, bits of the Cranberries — both musically and in Rice’s heartfelt lyrics which, taken out of context, read like poems.
“We don’t play a lot,” bassist Sean Chapman said in a chat, “but we practice every week.”

Subatlantic’s investment of time and practice to perfect their sound has paid off at every level on their full-length debut, Villains — a release that was well worth the wait.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 269.

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