At one point, it was unknown whether the debut album from American band We Are Augustines would ever see the light of record store shelves. The songs were originally written and intended for an album from members Mccarthy and Sanderson’s former band, Pela. However, arguments and tensions in that band eventually led to a split. Some songs were scrapped, some were re-recorded and the album was finally released in North America, New Zealand and Australia. The band has said that the central inspiration to this collection of heartfelt songs is the mental illness and suicide of We Are Augustines singer Billy Mccarthy’s brother and mother. Perhaps this is not the most cheerful start to a review, but this background is essential to understanding that the album is not just an excellent example of songwriting and drumming, but also a stunning exploration of sadness and struggle.
The album, entitled Rise Ye Sunken Ships, opens with the anthemic and uplifting ‘Chapel Song’. Mccarthy’s distinctive vocals lend a unique twist to the alternative rock genre on this album that this track’s steady yet frantic guitar and drums have already established. Even on the very first listen, this song shows that We Are Augustines’ musical experience has worked in their favour; this band know exactly what they are doing. The next track, ‘Augustine’ is an equally impressive song that manages to combine a catchy guitar riff with raw emotion that comes from the poignant lyrics: “keep your head up kid, I know you can swim, but you got to move your legs.”
Other high points on the album are ‘East Los Angeles’, a laid-back ballad about feeling lost in California, and ‘Juarez’, a track packed with biblical references and imagery of scorched deserts, and echoing, hymn-like vocals that makes this song almost sound like something that The Killers would create. ‘Book of James’ is a personal, moving tribute to Mccarthy’s brother.
We Are Augustines have created an album that was inspired by sadness, but manages to be moving without making you feel unbearably miserable. Songs that make you want to curl into a ball and cry are fine in small quantities, but We Are Augustines have avoided that entirely by sticking with their own uplifting take on alternative rock. It’s not radically different to other bands that predominantly use guitars in their music, such as Two Door Cinema Club or Kings of Leon, but it’s well written, enjoyable and the songs will stay with you for a long time. It may have taken a while to appear, but Rise Ye Sunken Ships is an album that is definitely worth the wait. Certainly not bad for a debut album.