erasing clouds

For Against, Shade Side Sunny Side

by dave heaton

Shade Side Sunny Side opens on a gloomy scene – a place of shadows, where dark spirits lurk. In other words, it opens with ominous drums, guitars that cut the air like a siren, and For Against’s singer/lyricist Jeffrey Runnings sounding lost in a fog, singing what seems like a warning: “You can only get so far / with that Je ne sais quoi”. The band kicks into a more driving, dark rock mode, leading towards a melodic but not optimistic chorus: “what happened to you?” Tough guitars shift together in step like soldiers, then drift off into the cemetery like vapor.

The opening lyric of second track “Underestimate” is, “You’ve been leading me astray for such a very long time now.” That tone of resentment and confusion is the undercurrent of the whole album. Of course, a relationship seems to be what’s at stake (“I was hoping we would last for such a very long time now”). As on the rest of the album, painful emotional matters are dealt with in a matter-of-fact way, within an intense dramatic atmosphere. And harsh feelings are not shyed away from: “I’m gonna make you pay,” he warns. The song also has a pretty, quieter bridge section that strives for empathy, yet after the potential peace the instruments ignite.

That feeling of attempted understanding within the anger is a hallmark too of the next track, “Whay Are You So Angry?” Overall softer than the prior tracks, it’s still driven by strong guitars. It has a calm-within-the-storm quality. In a much different way, so does much of the second “side” of the album (the “sunny side”, ostensibly, though it feels as much like it could be the “shade side”: a step away from the blaze, but not far enough away that you don’t still feel it). Especially the resigned, sad “Game Over”, where piano suggests calm but prickly guitars suggest otherwise, with a storm arriving fiercely at the end. And “Quiet Please”, a wish for rest that gets less secure, less sure, as it goes on. “Will it ever? I don’t think so,” Runnings sings, garbled, as the music gets more persistent, explosive. “Quiet come / just like sleep”, he sings, and it seems more a dream than reality.

Throughout the album, the three members of For Against sound in absolute control over their songs. Runnings’ bass; original, newly-returned member Harry Dingman III’s guitar, and Paul Engelhard’s drums all efficiently tear their way through the songs. Factory Records is a cleaer influence than ever, a fact made clear by the cover of Section 25’s “Friendly Fires”, which also adds a spooky quotient to the album. And their musicianship is right up there with those legendary bands…not that that is a surprise from a band that formed close to 25 years ago, and has quietly released a dynamite body of albums. Still, this might be their toughest, most powerful LP yet. They’re not building on past successes, they’re making exciting music today, setting mighty fires of their own.


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