As Matt Kadane told a Welsh student newspaper in 1995 about comparisons between Bedhead and other bands, “We occasionally get lumped into the slow music crowd, but I’m not sure what all that means. Some of our songs are slow, others fast; some are quiet, others, I think, fairly loud.” Indeed, those who labeled Bedhead a slowcore band described them incorrectly – or at least incompletely, which amounts to the same thing. Bedhead’s natural setting was a few notches below mid-tempo, but they could be fast and loud when the song required, and often were. Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom since Bedhead’s break-up in 1998 incorrectly has it that Bedhead was Matt and brother Bubba’s “slow” band, while the New Year is their “fast” band. According to this line of thinking, The End is Near comes along as the second album of the Kadane brothers second act, in which they rethought their tempos and compositions, suddenly discovered the joys of 3/4 time, and put the distortion pedals to the floor.
Among other problems with the conventional wisdom is the difficulty that the distinctions between the two bands aren’t quite so hard and fast (no pun intended). The song credits on The End is Near are all given to Kadane, Kadane, which of course matches the credit given on Bedhead’s albums. Peter Schmidt, who occasionally played guitar in Bedhead, plays on The End is Near. Finally, the New Year has a pretty obvious link to slowcore in the person of Chris Brokaw, who played the drums in Codeine, although he was also in the speedier Come, and currently plays with Matt Kadane in Consonant. Not only is the slow band, fast band labeling inaccurate, but it overlooks the fact that The End is Near employs much of fans found so pleasant about Bedhead, particularly the impressive build-up of two and three bar melodies.
The Kadane brothers’ songs are not about superlative musicianship; indeed, their songs are rewarding precisely because there is nothing at all showy about them. Rock music can easily sound ingratiating, with swelling choruses and bridges that succeed or fail based solely on whether they inspire a demand to be heard again right after, making the payoff fairly immediate and obvious. While the songs on The End is Near merit multiple listens, they don’t sound calculated or manipulative. The music follows the lyrics, largely avoiding the verse-chorus-verse structure. In lesser hands, this structure can lead composers to lose track. Movements fail to connect to one another and the song turns into a disjointed procession of one thing after another. For the Kadane brothers, however, the motif thrives. They have an ear for timbre and melody, as well as a sense of the right parts to repeat in a song. Often, their vaunted instrumental passages are simply a single melody repeated over the course of several minutes, and they have the luxury of doing this without worrying about shattering the construction of the song.
The sequencing of The End is Near creates the sort of album-length dynamic used to great effect on previous albums like Transaction de Novo. Opener “The End’s Not Near” features piano and a single guitar, and the subsequent, “Sinking Ship” showcases richer, familiar guitar textures. Both songs end at about the three-and-a-half minute mark, stopping at precisely the point when earlier Kadane brothers songs would have veered into soaring crescendos. Grabbing the listener’s attention by slowly building tempo and volume still seems to be the idea, but it’s accomplished here – as it was on Transaction de Novo and Newness Ends – over the course of an album instead of a single song. So the first three songs form an arc that peaks on the fourth song, “Plan B,” the album’s most straightforward rock song.
Only one song, “18,” runs past the seven-minute mark, the last four loosely structured without vocals. While ordinarily I’d be tempted to call any song with an instrumental fade-out that runs noticeably longer than the lyrics “wanky,” it’s impossible not to think that the New Year have earned this catharsis, and that the frenzied close matches or even demonstrates what the lyrics discuss – even as old age sets in, youthful energy never disappears.
After emo seemingly ruined the syncricity of intelligence and despair, the New Year writes a melancholy album without sounding grating or whiny. The trick seems to be eschewing contrived, operatic swells, focusing on thought rather than feeling. This lack of pretense has always been the Kadane brothers' strength, and their lyrics and music have always created indelible miniatures rather than panoramas. Their well observed stories deal with such wildly different topics as the reluctance to get out of bed in the morning ("The Rest of the Day") and the abundance of awful events for which no one can be blamed ("The Unpredictable Landlord") with a lot of quotidian detail. They do the same on The End is Near, offering this line on feeling lost at a party: "the men want to get it on, the women want to show it off. I just want to get out of here." No doubt, The End is Near is the product of a band with quite a bit on its collective mind, and that's the best reason I can offer for listening to it.
By Tom Zimpleman