Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson redeemed the dissolution of their band Pela by forming We Are Augustines, a shimmering indie outfit informed by orchestral grandeur and acoustic fragility. On the band’s 2011 debut, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, McCarthy wrestled with the impact mental illness had on his family; songs such as “Book Of James,” during which he forgives his brother for committing suicide, brought his tumult vividly to life. Throughout their uplifting second album, however, the band (which now records as just Augustines) focuses on pushing through turbulence and sorrow to better days.
Lyrically, you can feel the unburdening, in small, hopeful increments. The narrator of “Nothing to Lose But Your Head” recounts rock-bottom moments (“Have you reached out in a cold, cold night?/ Waved goodbye into headlights”) but ultimately makes a bid for survival: “You gotta get me outta here.” Even the album’s seemingly hopeless situations — the romantic rut of “Don’t You Look Back” or the suffocating cityscapes described in “Kid You’re On Your Own” — come with a redeeming tinge.
Production from Peter Katis ensures the album is fuller and more majestic than Rise Ye Sunken Ships. However, its strings, fanfare-like horns, keyboard roars and heaven-scraping harmonies also resemble myriad other bands; among them, pre-Neon Bible Arcade Fire and Katis clients the National and Frightened Rabbit. Plus, nearly every song feels like a cathartic grand finale, which, over the course of the album, induces creeping fatigue. McCarthy’s weary, weathered voice and the record’s brutally honest soul-searching are powerful, but Augustines is most effective doled out in small doses.