As the Bay Area’s vanguard baroque rock outfit, San Francisco’s The Family Crest’s symphonic approach to indie rock has captured the hearts of a growing fanbase. At once loftily cinematic and intimately communal, the group lives up to its name both in music and audience relations.
In fact, the core septet enlisted the help of more than 100 musicians while orchestrating The War: Act I. Following 2017’s Prelude to War EP in an ambitious musical odyssey, this LP overflows with jubilant bombast and inviting relatableness.
“To Love You” blasts out the gate with a sweeping fanfare, immediately capitalizing on the volume potential of their orchestra. This introduction drops down to a piano and lead vocalist Liam McCormick maintaining intensity in a stripped-down context. Abrupt dynamic shifts allow him to polarize his vocal range. His quasi-operatic notes reach for the stars as they follow foreboding chords in a rapturous crescendo, epitomizing the magnitude of this undertaking.
Indeed, the size of Act I is impressive enough, but The Family Crest’s anything-goes songwriting approach makes for a superbly diverse listening experience. With such a broad swath of sounds to choose from, no two tracks on Act I sound alike.
Starting from the confines of acoustic guitar and raspy vocal musings, “It Keeps Us Dancing” bursts into dazzling refrains that would make Disney’s composers green with envy. By contrast, John Seeterlin’s solid bass groove cadences nimble mallet percussion over swelling legato in “Take Tonight.”
When they tighten their rhythm structure, The Family Crest effectively apprehends their multifaceted arrangements. This minutia plays into Charlie Giesige’s syncopated drums, which drive the warm vibraphone and marimba embellishments of “Rest.”
Whether it be the upbeat pop rock of “Never Gonna Stop” or the Afro-Cuban foundation of “Daggers,” transcendent melodies crash through like waves. And yet, there’s much more to The Family Crest’s approach than a large ensemble. They introduce ideas sparingly, giving their vision room to develop incrementally and avoid wearing out its welcome.
The lush ballad “I Was Born” emphasizes how their tastefulness makes for an incredible range of dynamics. McCormick’s warm singing guides the song along its gradual evolution until concert cymbals and timpani bring about its apex. While the album’s melodrama is undeniable, the core members’ coordination truly allows Act I to succeed.
“Waiting Still,” at once a nod to synth pop and the best elements of ‘80s glam rock, leaves room for single instruments and voices to take melodic presence. Intuitive mixing translates into everything from the song’s 16th note tambourine subdivision to how synthesizers complement acoustic instruments.
In the same way, the acoustic folk stylings of “Like a Night” show their ability to break songs down to simply what they need. Providing a foil for the more-is-more mentality, nuanced vocal and string additions coincide with sprinkled piano arpeggiations for the album’s most approachable track. These unique assertions do wonders for Act I’s concept.
McCormick’s lyrics, while delivered with unmistakable power, center more around the human experience than epic battles. As Latin jazz-tinged double bass lays the foundation for a nimble string feature, the grounded folk and sparse orchestral elements of “The Years,” his soothing ode to desired tranquility, is purposely left to the listener’s interpretation.
Similarly, “The Mighty Echo’s” tumbling piano modulations and exhilarating rhythms feature vocal lines with almost stream-of-consciousness phrasing patterns, allowing his lyrical storytelling to amiable even during the song’s emotive eruption—imparting direction to grandeur.
As Act I closes out with the unabashed overdrive of “The Rock’s Resting on Your Back,” it truly feels like closing the curtain on the first part of a story. In spite of it traversing through a cavalcade of styles and cultures, the flow of this album leaves room for its bookends to stand out for in sheer sonic might.
Passionate chord progressions abound as The Family Crest uses their collaborative foundation as a springboard, launching them far above expectations. With such a strong opening LP for their ambitious project, one can only hope they keep up this tremendous momentum with subsequent installments.
Follow writer Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995.