As It Is – The Great Depression (Review)

Hello Consumer, I know you’re there.

Liquid, luxurious, and with shining electronic accents and beats, The Great Depression begins. As It Is set a thoughtful stage for their third album. Immediately drawing us into its conceptual self with this theatrical welcome, “The Great Depression” lays out for the listener what they are here for and what is to come. With vocalist Patty Walters as storyteller, we’re told to pay attention to this story: Of The Poet, the modern affliction of insecurity and depression, and the role that the four piece of Patty (vocals), Benjamin Langford-Biss (guitar & vocals), Ali Testo (bass), and Patrick Foley (drums) may or may not play in this environment that encourages misery.

With this bouncing yet fiery album opener, As It Is aren’t shy about seeing themselves as both the problem and the solution. They know that misery sells, but they also want to save lives. “The Great Depression” is an anthem of questioning which echoes Patty’s sentiments in our interview recently: The Great Depression was inspired by As It Is powerfully asking:

“Are we part of the romanticisation of depression and mental health?”

Stage I. Denial

It’s easy to deny any personal role refuse its validity, fittingly leaning into the first of the four stages that As It Is have placed the songs of The Great Depression into: Denial.

Anthemic and catchy as well as determinedly seeking, second track “The Wounded World” takes this question of responsibility and directs it toward each of us, saying literally that “we’re all to blame”. With early 2000s emo vibes in full force on the music video’s museum tour of modern-day misery, the social media, smartphone, and magazine exhibits that are gasped at and showcased are precisely what we’re creating and doing; we’re entertained by the drama, the arm’s length observations, the pained expressions.

The museum tour guide played by Patty becomes aware that no one is listening to his tales of warning, and takes a platform position to be clearly heard by the deniers: “You can’t pull back the trigger and then point the same finger.” Predictably and fittingly to their state of denial, the museum-goers leave, refusing to take the message of responsibility on board.

 

Hard hitting and rockier, third track “The Fire, The Dark” shares the tortured vibe of a relationship. Relying on a lover who feels distant, the track expresses a pull to create something damaging and fireful instead of facing uncomfortable emotions. With tenderly chimed melodies inside edgy rock and screams, the track feels like a refusal to face the vulnerable, seeking “any escape”. A stand out to the track for me is the fraught and tense riffs and drumming leading into the instrumental focus before the final chorus.

Stage II. Anger

“The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” kicks off Stage II. Anger, where As It Is are sarcastically directing their attention toward figures of authority who refuse the expression of emotion. Fittingly reflected by weighty beats, impassioned vocals, and massive anthemic choruses backed by gang vocals, the track is a refusal to keep quiet and perpetuate those same patterns we’ve not collectively taken responsibility for. Boys do cry. Boys feel. As do girls. In Patty’s words, the track features “a lot of positive messages that are delivered tongue-in-cheek, where they’re spat back with a lot of venom, a kind of ‘rulebook’ of toxic masculinity”.

 

In anger there’s a connection to something powerful, and in “The Stigma” as well as the following track “The Handwritten Letter”, As It Is share an impression of a collective working together to turn the tide of complacency, feeling like ‘we’re all in this together’. With its bouncing beat and dusky guitar, “The Handwritten Letter” shares words of appreciation and connection and the power of this, despite any personal imperfections. “The Handwritten Letter” expresses a feeling of unity in our brokenness, and using this as a force for change. It expresses this most powerfully with overlapping audio clips of a multitude of voices sharing their thanks and honest comments about belonging and the power of music in providing this, even if their individual ache or brokenness remains. As Patty mentioned in our interview, the signature As It Is sound is solidly present here, with those melodic choruses that will be appreciated by longtime fans.

“You take my silences and make them less alone,
A fresh coat of paint inside my coffin so it feels like home”

Lyrically painful, sixth track “The Question, The Answer” is moving from its acoustic beginnings onwards. Never claiming to know solutions, As It Is are asking questions about life (‘Is it all just a beautiful nightmare and nothing more?’) and where life is leading. It’s a pleasure to sit back and soak up this polished exploration of what should be done, what happens next, and where we’ll end up. It’s gorgeously done with orchestral grandeur alongside acoustic guitar, as well as pop-flavoured clicks and beats, tumbling melodies, chimes, and voice effects.

Stage III: Bargaining

Falling into riffy rock and drumtastic territory with curious timing (that instantly reminded me of blink-182‘s “6/8”), “The Reaper” is a darker turn on The Great Depression. We have The Poet facing Death with horror, with a helping hand from Aaron Gillespie of their Fearless Records label mates Underoath. Lyrical storytelling of this confrontation with Death, someone he sought, while not actually wanting to give up ‘his wasted life’, echoes this romanticisation theme. In amongst this really strong and guitar-focused track, we’re pointed toward the incongruence between dreams and reality. The pleading and confrontational track is one of my favourites of the album so far, and I’d love to see it brought even more to life in a music video. Aaron’s grittier voice compliments the track and is perfectly at home on this track.

“What I see, and what I dream, they don’t align”

Flowing straight into “The Two Tongues”, hauntingly opened aptly with a sound clip of “The Prisoners Song” (by Vernon Dalhart), we’re still standing face-to-face with Death. With driving beats, aching guitars and a vibe of pressure to make a choice, The Poet debates the two voices in his head: The soft sunrise of his wife, and the screaming temptation of Death. A choice between home and Hell. It’s a relatable expression of ‘comfort in the cold’ and also touches on the worthiness of the agony of life. As It Is aren’t preaching answers here with “The Two Tongues”. We’re taken into a raw inner argument between The Poet and Death.

“I’m calmly coasting off the rails
My teeth in battle with my fingernails”

“The Truth I’ll Never Tell” shares the relatable inner battle of sharing or not sharing the darkness that’s going on inside. As in the debate with Death, could The Poet tell anyone about it without upsetting them? As lyrically shared: “If I open my mouth, I’m only going to bring you down”.

There’d be very few of us who haven’t come face-to-face with a “How are you?” question and censored our response for the sake of the asker not having to deal with everything we’re troubled by. Repeated lyrics impactfully share the loop of exchanges where we’re never truly heard, and never truly sharing what we’re going through. The track is musically brilliant and I love its capture of this experience, sharing heaviness with drum beats, and the sonic dance between ‘this is how it is’ defeat and ‘maybe something more is possible’ hope expressed via an impressive build at the bridge, guitar intricacy, vocal honesty, and reassuring bass.

Stage IV: Acceptance

“The Haunting” is somewhat misleading from its upbeat and electrified introduction. This track hits brutally hard, especially lyrically, and progressively instrumentally. In a quest for more, to dream, to feel alive, people may see death as an answer and an escape to a life that’s lacking beautiful things. “The Haunting” attempts to turn the romanticisation of death as relief on its head, by presenting a painfully realistic scene in front of the listener:

“Can you feel your sister staring at your grave?
Would you take it back if you could see her face?”

It’s as emotionally ripping as you might expect, and As It Is have expressed it genuinely despite the polished and anthemic sound of the track. The theme of acceptance seems to come in with this track presenting the heavy permanence and impact of death. The raw emotion in the vocals of The Great Depression is one of the things I’m appreciating of the album that wasn’t as easy to find/feel in okay. even though the previous album was chock full of personal content.

Eleventh track, “The Hurt, The Hope”, is a stand-out of The Great Depression which gave me the impression of a turning point in the journey. This is especially apparent with the stunning and powerful repetition of “It’s gotta get better” and upward climb of sound, after a gentle encapsulation of all these things we’re collectively seeking: peace, relief, connection, meaning. With losing hope of finding ourselves, it can be easy to be overcome by the ache. As It Is offer hope with this piece of music without ever seeming like they have all the answers. I loved this powerful track, which struck me as important from first listen, which inspired me to ask Patty about it when we spoke.

Patty shared that the song exists because of the band’s bassist Ali. In his words “We were writing the journey of The Poet and his experiences with depression, suicidal thoughts, the guilt of his life in general. It was the kind of suggestion of our bassist, that not every day is as negative as the one before it, no matter how bad your situation is, no matter how bleak, and it’s important to represent that with at least one song or at least one moment, and “The Hurt, The Hope” is really the dark and the light coming head to head; the hopelessness and the hope. You can even kind of hear it, where the chorus melody of the hurt, where it goes down an octave, and in the hope it just goes up an octave. So it’s all very descending, ascending, and all this kind of stuff, minor, major.. It was just important to not even the diversity of the journey, but if we’re going to talk about this kind of subject matter, that’s very sensitive, it’s our responsibility to do it justice and to do it accurately, and portray it as not bleak 100% of the time, or not hopeless 100% of the time. I think that’s why that song was so crucial to be written.”

Closing the album with “The End”, I found the track to be exceptionally moving. Whenever I say a song was ‘moving’ in a review, be assured that it’s code for “I bawled my fucking eyes out”. So yes, “The End” is moving. With the story of The Great Depression culminating in this show-ender, sweet harmonies sharing “Nobody’s listening” seem to take us full circle to the frustration we found back in “The Wounded World”.

At first, As It Is paint a picture (an accurate one) of a world full of people crying to be heard and no one hearing them, with us collectively seeking something more than an existence where we’re drowning in our mistakes and fears. Soon “The End” veers into a focal point of building drums and Patty moving from spoken word questioning to determined fight. This shift combined with swelling strings, angelic harmonies, layered vocals, is impossible to not get swept into and it’s a heart-bursting moment of presence.

With this close listen to The Great Depression complete, I feel very satisfied by what As It Is have created with the album. It feels like an evolution and a honing of their creativity into something that’s very real and emotionally full, yet also with room for theatricism and metaphor use that keeps a healthy distance between their personal selves and the raw subject matter. It’s admirable that they’ve managed to explore these topics in an artful way, while still making them thoughtful and keeping their own flavour. I hope their fans treat this collection of songs with affection that’s reflective of the heart and thought that’s been poured into it.

The Great Depression releases August 10th via Fearless Records/Caroline Australia. Pre-order here: https://caroline.lnk.to/TheGreatDepression

 

As It Is - The Great Depression
  • Album Rating
    9
The Good

An impressive and interesting creative exploration of the darker side of life. Very much in keeping with As It Is' style, with the extra weight that the concept and story offers. I can see this being a fan favourite - no question.

The Bad

I loved the story concept and would have loved to have seen more obvious focus on the characters involved throughout the album. On the plus side of this, the story concept never detracted from the very real and important subject matter.

910
Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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