Two if by Sea: Safety
Much has changed for Two if by Sea in the three years since releasing Translations, the band’s debut album. Keyboardist Yuri Zietz has been dropped, and the band has gained a nervier, angrier sound, driven by vocalist/guitarist Cris Cowan’s confrontational baritone wail. Formerly tentative bassist John Jorde has mastered his instrument, joining drummer Chuck Cole to create a solid rhythmic backbone, something the group sorely lacked in the past. It’s also abandoned local indie label Speedbump in favor of Washington’s Silverthree, adding a two-piece string section on a few tracks, and eliminated the hissy technical shortcomings of the debut.
These drastic changes aside, Safety finds the band continuing to mine a particular vein of moody-yet-danceable, wish-we-were-British, Morrissey-meets-Factory Records post-postpunk. This time the debut’s disco shimmer is replaced with more emphasis on lead guitarist David Hardy, who frequently explores how the Edge might play guitar if he were being tortured in the seventh circle of Hell. "Million to One" is essentially one long chorus, with Cowan joyously crowing, "We are machines that make machines, we build machines to make machines," before collapsing into a delightfully fuck-off litany of "la-la-la-la-la-la." The whole song clocks in at just over two minutes, a welcome change from the band’s old tendency to overstay its welcome by just a few bars of looped keyboard.
An occasional derivative melody aside, Safety represents a major evolutionary step for Two if by Sea. This is most evident on the woefully bisected title track that bookends the album, a piece that proves that the band’s had more on its collective mind than pogoing crowds. Over sparse strings, acoustic guitar, and a chugging sample of a train, a curiously tender and melodic Cowan begins by admonishing anyone who says they’d rather "sleep when they’re dead," reminding us that "dreaming is the best part of sleeping." The closing half features the simple repeated refrain "I’m never going to die, someday." This is the futile, defiant, half-choked cry of a man who knows damn well that he’s going to die--and a smart and surprising move by a band that’s made its name by making people dance.