Bridges and Powerlines is one of my favorite bands, and one that I've been listening to since 2007 or so, when I found them on 3hive. I don't follow 3hive as much any more, but there was a time when I listened to every post as an act of civil disobedience against the recording industry (because in college, a classmate was sued by the RIAA). My "now playing" still has a collection of random tracks from that period, not to mention entire albums from artists like Say Hi (because), Children of the CPU (of), Margot and the Nuclear So and So's (posts), A Weather (like), and Barcelona (these). These days, though, my favorite website to discover music is Bandcamp. I just learned that the entire Bridges and Powerlines oeuvre is on Bandcamp, and that made me so excited I decided I had to write this blog post about them and their discography.
Bridges and Powerlines are four young Newyorkais men who put out ~NYC style power pop~ (in the words of 3hive). Their sound has evolved over time but it has always included a bit of an electronic element, some vocal harmonies, soaring melodies, and an occasional darker edge. Their lyrics hit the sweet spot for me between abstract enough to be profound and clear enough to be understandable.
Their first album is their self-titled EP. The third song, "Mumbles", is a quintessential Bridges and Powerlines song, starting with the vocal harmonies I mentioned above and some typical themes in the lyrics -- flawed relationships, wandering. My favorite track on this album is almost certainly All In, which feels dangerous, deranged, powerful. When their Wikipedia article talks about the "nervous energy that defined their earliest releases", I think of this song. A lot of people also like the first track, "Carmen", starts with the great line "You can't leave and still surround me/ There are rules that you should know". (You might also find a reprint of this album that bears the title "Sunspots", but it's the same album.)
Ghost Types, their first LP, develops the sound of the EP, enriching it and broadening it. The Thieves, They are Everywhere is a good example of what I mean, with a lot of the same ideas of "Mumbles" but with a richer sound, and maybe more complex lyrical themes. I think this is my favorite of their albums, with a lot of solid songs. Middle Child is pure ear candy, and is lyrically perfect -- "Never know which life to lead/ and which to leave behind" resonates very strongly when FOMO infests your life. This Last Equation is probably my favorite of the songs on this album.
On Eve, their next album, highlights include: The Jameson, which got me through my final months of Peace Corps; Mirabell, which starts off with the killer line "I was a soldier of nothing, ascendant"; the title track Eve, which is just a rocking track. Some of the songs on this album abandon the power-pop feel to go for a quieter sound, like "The Roman Leaders" or "The Leaves".
Then there's Better, which is an EP where each track is named after a different neighborhood of Brooklyn (mostly the trendy ones like Williamsburg and Bushwick, but also East New York). In my mind, this is the album where a laptop was added to the Bridges and Powerlines lineup -- there's a "break" in the middle of "Williamsburg", and some background tinkling sounds on "East New York", both of which are unusual in the rest of the canon. Park Slope is probably my favorite of the bunch, with its optimistic refrain that "We'll see mountains/ we'll see forests/ when it's over".
National Fantasy is their latest album. Although Boston Survival Guide says that there's a "positive, upbeat vibe here", I find the album pretty dark, even considering that above I described most of their work as having an edge. If you gave yourself a mixtape to grieve the horrific breakup you had with the year 2016, the title track would fit right in.
But it's still familiar, and the "laptop" sound from Better is reined in a little better here. I'm not sure I can say it's my "favorite" song because it's so melancholy, but I've listened to "National Fantasy" dozens of times. I'm completely in love with the lyrics, especially the opening lines ("Roads end like they never saw it coming/ But a few seem to slowly fade into nothing").
Bridges and Powerlines isn't just a band with great songs or even great albums. Over their five albums, there's a progression, and while it isn't as explicit as in e.g. the work of the Mountain Goats, I believe there are arcs here if you look for them.
The easiest theme to pick out is the theme of flawed relationships. In "The Ghost Types", the singer "once had a young love/ to lie about". In "The Last Equation", "Come down, come down, in the light of my room/ If I want, if I want, I'll just hide this from you". The singer of "Mirabell" is "a soldier of nothing, ascendant/ You were a signpost, simple, dependent", and "I might feel more a lifetime later in an old city". By the time we get to Better, there's clearly an ambivalence about the person who "broke into my body, stole my blood/ Built a tiny boat, and cried out 'flood'", who the singer also exhorts, "Don't cry/ We might see tomorrow if we try" (in "Bushwick"). This theme comes to a point in National Fantasy, where it's the focus of "Hurting Kind" ("To me your kind of love/ Is a hurting kind of love/ And I could never have enough").
There's a theme of leaving, and besides that, knowing when to leave. "The Thieves, They are Everywhere" starts this off, with the wistful "Just one more night", and "Middle Child" struggling with the lives to live and to leave behind. On "The Jameson", the refrain goes, "Why am I still here?", and on "Red Hook", it's "I'm going on my way". Finally, we come to National Fantasy, where the singer admits on "XOXO" that "It's better I am alone", even though in "Lindsay" he says "I just want to stay with you one last time".
The songs flirt with politics and history, though they don't ever quite go so far as to have a position, or maybe they just don't tell you what the position is. "New Mexico" on Eve seems like it could be about the Trinity nuclear test; "The Maine" is definitely about the ship that exploded in Havana. In "Gazes Wide", the singer tells us that "America is grinning, gazes wide", but I think that's more about show business than politics. The cover of National Fantasy has a picture of the sign at the Champlain border crossing, which says "United States of America", but reversed. Maybe the closest is "XOXO" from National Fantasy, which says "The way it was, it wasn't that way", which could be a rebuttal to a program of making America great again.
I think "Lindsay" from National Fantasy, with its refrain of "You're so far away", makes an interesting contrast to "Mumbles", from the first EP ("You're beautiful from far away/ but we don't even have a place where we can be alone"). "Mumbles" has a wistful longing, with a backdrop of struggle ("Tries/ We try to be someone") and wanderlust ("Marching the foreign lands"). In "Lindsay", it's almost like that struggle has turned sour, and the longing is now a loss -- "Your songs, they don't love me like they used to", and "You're so far away".
Of course stuff like this doesn't make or break an artist's appeal to you, but if you do like them, it can add a richness and depth to the songs that you only notice after ten years.
I am super into Bridges and Powerlines, and now that their music is on Bandcamp, it's super easy for you to be super into them too! Get started now.