2020's best local release is an apocalyptic album for an apocalyptic year. Condor & Jaybird have distilled their end-time vision in a sweeping, prog-tinged psych-rock masterpiece, coating a heavy pill with pop hooks, dancing guitars, and infectious rhythms. The Glory is an aptly-named document of Condor & Jaybird's maturation as musicians and songwriters, and the closing third of a trilogy begun by The Power and The Kingdom.
The Glory is a philosophy come full-flower, fully and properly realized by 11 songs. The band set out to make "the soundtrack to the end of the world," with guitarist, vocalist, and primary lyricist Jeramie Anderson taking influence from Hinduism and the Book of Revelation as well as observations of an unraveling pre-COVID world and belief in "[an apocalyptic] prophecy that exists outside of religion." As he observed just before the album's release, "We're kinda writing as it happens, I guess. That's how it feels sometimes."
The three years spent making the album are reflected in the detail of the music. Rather than the fairly straightforward Beatles-y indie-rock of past albums, the songs on The Glory possess a greater musical sophistication and a Pink Floyd-ian prog touch. The arrangements suggest a soak in the same psychedelic hot tub as pals and tourmates Harakiri, the Twin Cities' smooth-prog combo. Handled the wrong way, this could be cloying. Fortunately, Anderson, singer/guitarist Connor Lyle and drummer Bryson Foster (with ex-bassist Jake Lyle, since replaced by Dave Perry, on two tracks) eschew the cocktail-jazz syrup and instead work the tangled arrangements nimbly into the jangle and swoosh of the songs. The songs on The Glory are deceptively simple and packed with nimble yet restrained displays of music prowess.
The regal "Celebration" opens the album, resplendent with orchestrated guitar chords and the soaring trumpet of Jeff Carl. Falsetto voice follows a clean, simple rhythm that drifts through like dissipating morning mist in sun, before crashing power chords jar the sleeper awake. The sublime dance of "Lightbringer VII and VIII" does its best to capture the beauty of life, of being one with the circle, the "constant coming to fruition [and] constant embracing of the new" as Anderson describes it. The pair together is like a swim through crystal waters, and the transition into "Sleep" is like surfacing from the Lightbringer acid-prog swim onto the deck of a yacht. The teasing mock-jazz and arpeggio-ed stroll of "Sleep" conceals a darker lyrical turn, from the celebration of life to the "emptiness [at] the root of all." Sly, dark humor comes out as the song extends and contrasts with some samples of sirens, helicopters, and city sounds, driving home the lyrical shift and a "real world" touch.
"Time" starts as a Floydian sleepwalk, drifting along on Fender reverberations before dropping into a bombastic, serious-comical heavy Queen riff overlaid with choral vocals. It's reminiscent of the funny-scary unease of Ween's "Happy Colored Marbles," the siesta in the sun rudely disturbed by the sirens in the distance. Continuing the darker turn, it emphasizes life's waste of time and ends side one on an uneasy note.
"Remember" is a little teeny-bopper love thing sandwiched between an ominous jungle-drum intro and an equally ominous typmani crescendo. It sets up the frantic "Monster Vision," a weird combination of surfspray punk and gypsy polka. The album's heaviest track, it's known for inducing mosh pits at shows.
"Already Dead" is the opposite: an infectious, impossibly whimsical tune, given the subject matter. It may be The Glory's best track. The album runs headlong from the darkness into the void with the closing triptych. "The Glory I" ecstatically celebrates all the beauty and joy of life in final, organ-driven sendoff. "II" proclaims the beginning of the end, veering from Krishna-hailing acoustic strumming to heavy Floyd riffs, even turning into Rush at the end, while driving home the message: "Hope that you know, flowers that grow, get born again..."
They catch their breath on "III," invoking the glory that creates and destroys with a glancing nod at our impending doom, preparing for the end by addressing the divine directly: "All of the children are waiting my lord to see a sign." The vinyl version ends abruptly after one more six-string flight, but the CD and digital versions drift gently away with a piano medley of the album's main musical themes, shifting constantly from the dark to the light in a musical echo of reincarnation itself.
Condor & Jaybird are singing for the doomed kids of the QCA, poisoned by industry, undrinkable tap water and "forever chemicals,” unwittingly caught in the centuries-old bad karma on stolen Indian land, and now starved for live music by the ravages of COVID-19. The darkness was there before Black Hawk and the Sauk and Fox double-cross; before Looney's men littered old-town Rock Island with bodies; before the Arsenal churned out death machines on the remains of a sacred garden. Their last show – the release show for The Glory – fell ominously on a full-moon Friday the 13th just before the near-total shutdown of live music.
Without the option of drowning their ennui in a can of Schlitz, to dance themselves sweaty in the world's softest mosh pit while Condor & Jaybird chime away on the little stage at Rozz-Tox, those kids need this music and its message more than ever. So do the rest of us. It's a message delivered with a minimum of dread on The Glory. As the band said on a radio session the week before quarantine: "There's something to be said about the end times not meaning the end of time … but more of like this kind of analagous expression of the end of an era, or the end of a paradigm … sort of a middle part between two ages.”
"There's no reason to be upset. There's no reason to be afraid. It's all part of the process." Let's hope they're right.