Upon first listen, what stands out on We Are Augustines’ debut album Rise Ye Sunken Ships, are the sweeping guitars, the propulsive drumming, and soaring vocals atop layers of affecting melody. Sonically, the songs evoke the grandiosity of the Arcade Fire or early U2. But underneath is a story of perseverance and redemption.
Lead singer and songwriter Bill McCarthy has penned lyrics about his personal trials, which could have come across as maudlin in less adept hands. He grew up without knowing his father, and, at a young age, his mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic. McCarthy and his siblings were placed in foster care. As a teenager, his younger brother was also diagnosed with schizophrenia. Both McCarthy’s brother and mother would eventually take their own lives.
In a genre (indie rock) overrun with detached irony, the sincerity on Rise Ye Sunken Ships is refreshing. The traumatic ordeals McCarthy writes about could easily wallow in loss. Instead he infuses a bright hope in rockers like “Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love).” Bruce Springsteen’s influence shows up on “Book of James” where confessional lyrics are married to flourishes of keyboards and a contagious guitar hook. “Headlong Into the Abyss” is abuzz with frantic, post-punk marching drums, finding McCarthy and his brother homeless and fleeing the police. “Juarez” is a taut mid-tempo ballad about searching for an unknown father in an unknown land. As emotionally cathartic as We Are Augustines’ music is, its primary message is hope and a promise for salvation, which comes through in McCarthy’s distinct, raw vocals.
The Brooklyn-based band is garnering a reputation as a formidable live act. Their infectiously energetic performances at music festivals such as Coachella and Bonaroo caught the attention of Adam Duritz of The Counting Crows, who offered the band an opening slot on their North American summer tour.
We Are Augustines’ theme of triumph in the face of adversity should resonant well with the crowd in Cedar Rapids. Keep going, they’re saying, don’t give up. Is there a more appropriate message to the RAGBRAI crowd nearing the end of their journey?
We Are Augustines are opening for The Counting Crows Thursday, July 26th in Cedar Rapids as part of a special event celebrating 40 years of RAGBRAI.