It seems like being signed to Underwater Peoples means having a comically WASPy name, a suburban upbringing, and an affinity for R. Steevie Moore-styled cheapo guitar sounds. Also: New Jersey. True, the label could probably be mistaken for some sort of twee front for a white supremacist group, but Underwater Peoples is probably putting out this decade’s best guitar music. That Andrew Cedermark found his way onto Underwater Peoples is no surprise, especially given his background as a member of Titus Andronicus. And though Cedermark’s output has been fairly representative of the label’s sound, it’s also been very indicative of some interesting soul and roots folk influences. With its western grace and Northeastern coyness, Home Life should, once and for all, earn Cedermark the removal of the Titus Andronicus appendage from every mention of his name on the internet. Home Life is a fantastic album that isn’t afraid to be demure and wholesome. An unaudacious release that is beautifully afflicted with down-home existential crises and compellingly framed by Cedermark’s stuffy vocals.
Home Life opens with “On Me” which is a jammed up and expanded cover of “Lean on Me.” The song serves as a teaser to the rest of the album, and actually reminds me a lot of the way Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain opens with the Buddy Holly-referencing “Silence Kid.” It’s disjointed and strange, but it’s like an orchestral warmup that vamps you into the heart of the album. “On Me” swiftly transitions into the meandering “Tiller Of Lawn” which is built around a kind of descending, parallel minor inflicted scale that reappears on Home Life. The focus here really seems to be Cedermark’s vocals, which carry most of the album’s emotional load, though guitars certainly do a lot of the talking.
Cedermark’s voice is perfectly unstable; he has an uncontrolled, raconteuring style that dutifully covers a surprising soulfulness. On “Heap of Trash” the watery guitars are occasionally accompanied by chamber-esque backing vocals that act like temporary heavy cream to the song’s black coffee chord structure. Nowhere are Cedermark’s subtle vocal chops more apparent than on lead single “Canis Major.” Cedermark’s vocals could never match up to a more persistently energized singer like Patrick Stickles, but everything from his nuanced intonations to the occasional bluesy harmonics is perfectly suited to Cedermark’s music. Soft and intimate, but not without some invigoration and sharpness.
There is a perceptible western tinge to Home Life, and songs like “Memories, Ah!” sound like heady cowboy spirituals. In much the same way as other Underwater Peoples releases (especially Real Estate and Julian Lynch’s Lines), Home Life sounds rich and humongous with texture. There’s a mystic fogginess to the songs that gives everything a laid back and summery feel; if I could describe it with a location it would be summer in the backyard of the kind of spacious suburban house on Home Life’s cover. This isn’t an album for the beach, but it might work for the beach house. Home Life sounds very personal, especially on tracks like “Canis Minor” where Cedermark almost seems lost in a contemplative exchange with his guitar. Home Life is also an album that sounds like it needed to be made; as though it’s covering for something intensely personal. For this reason, many of its more theraputic aspects could fly over the listener’s head.
“Men in Jail” closes out the album with some endearing last-song bombasticity, containing some of Cedermark’s most startling vocals, as well as a closing guitar solo that seems to scream “this is America.” Nothing on Home Life is as bombastically emotional as a track like Moon Deluxe’s “Anchorite” but that’s because Cedermark seems now to be dealing in the subtle and elongated push and pull of tone and form more than in confrontation, whether it be through outstanding moment or melody. It’s weird just how much Home Life sounds like a singular piece, rather than a collection of distinct songs. Though based almost entirely around the electric guitar and containing not unsubtle allusions to roots rock and road rock and garage rock, this is not a rock album. This is a guitar movement.