Following up last year’s Michael and the Prophetess, local art rock group The Chairman Dances have continued with their story-telling affinity on their recent release, The Death of Samuel Miller. Based around the formative and unforgotten memories of a dying old man, this album is a bold tale that finds beauty in a life lived and strength in the fact that life goes on.
Opening up the album, vocalist/guitarist Eric Krewson describes the restlessness of the man who finds himself entering the final stages of life amidst the ones he loves. Singing “We both ask, how long will I put you through this?” as the bass plays a killer line and the synth gives some texture, Krewson continues into some sweet melodies and comes to a conclusion that finds solace in that other person. He exclaims, “My baby finds me restless at night and brings me back to bed / She speaks in quiet tones and smiles / but I feel her drifting away / I know the effort it takes / I see the signs in her face and I know I’m far too late” as the horns slowly blast.
“Worth Writing Home About (1952)” comes with a livened-up guitar tone, a quirky synthesizer line, and the begging question: “Is there something worth writing home about, someplace worth calling home?.” The song continues into a huge wall of big band horns and blaring guitar before Miller finds “someplace worth calling home.” “Benediction” is a more somber, but very powerful track that comes alive with piano and violin as the old man finds himself strangely baffled:
My daughter comes to visit me with a new boy she’s been seeing / He wears a grin up on his face just like I used to / You’re the spitting image of a teenage me / Your mother’s palms sweating in the July heat / Did you come for benediction? / Because you’re the ones blessed / I’m helpless
Krewson’s delivery is top-notch throughout this track, it feels personal and totally in the moment of the ‘memory’. The first single off the album, “Dance to the Neighbor’s Stereo,” is a party anthem from old man Miller himself, he remembers “I kicked off the Dr. Scholl’s inserts / I let the night robe fall / Sarah shuffled on, offered her hand and the synthesized beat led us on / We dance to the neighbor’s stereo, dance to that trash they play” as the band jams on the most fun and straightforward cut on the album. With a cool beat, catchy chorus, and added synth sounds, this song definitely standouts. The next track dwells on his age, “I was out of date as the ENIAC / Don’t ask,” before exploding in love and remembrance of “this golden day, happy anniversary” with slow, pounding drums and a raw, fast guitar solo.
“Hello, Life (1958)” slows down in Beatles-esque fashion, acoustics intricately come in with soft drums, a piercing synth, and added harmonies from vocalist Alexa Cabellon. “Convalescence” rocks with a fuzzed out riff, heavy drum hits, and a passionate delivery from Krewson, while tragically dealing with his illness, “Daughter, do I know you? / And do the tears in your eyes ever stop? / Old forgotten me / feeling better / feeling worse / feeling better / feeling worse / Sarah switched off the TV to hold me close / She holds me close.”
“Brother, My Brother (1960) confronts memories of losing a brother, the music blows up with horns and Krewson belts out “O Absalom / poor Absalom / who hung between heaven and earth? / My brother chose the latter to hang himself upon / I came home to find you pressed against the floor / And I tried hard to forgive you for the life you left us!” before going into a grueling guitar solo that is accompanied by ever-softening backing instruments. The final song, “Daylight,” ends on a high note, as Kreswson sings “I hear a call and I see the kids who sing on all through the day, a light not meant to fade / Like an old coin used up and tossed from some balcony, I am not / The light does not fade / The light does not give.”
The Chairman Dances are skilled storytellers, and The Death of Samuel Miller is another example of that. Their sound does not dwell in any one place for too long, and the contrasting guitar solos and huge horns make for some very interesting dynamics. With the added themes of life and death all teased out into an engaging story by the nostalgia-inducing voice of Eric Krewson, this is an album that pulls you in more track by track, and listen by listen. Definitely for any fan of Philly sounds or things that break the indie rock mold.
Image courtesy of the artist.