It’s hard not to heavily associate new music with the time of year that you first heard it, where a few notes or a chorus can propel you back in time to months before, your eyes and ears filling with the sounds of springtime or the scrubbed-clean scent of winter.
Free Company, the new LP from Oakland band Boy Scouts, feels engineered for that strange time between summer and winter that some may refer to as “fall.” But here in the Bay Area, August through Halloween is a unpredictable haze, a season of busts and starts and long, lazy shadows, where everyone acts just a little bit strange, not sure what to expect from each other or themselves. It’s a far cry from the postcard fall aesthetic of cowl-necked sweaters and acres of fiery treetops, but carries its own magic just the same.
Free Company steps into this annual wind-down with brittle confidence, its strongest songs by far the ones that embrace resignation with a firm hand, leaning into the inevitable end of a relationship with exhausted eyes but determined words. Album standout “All Right” contradicts its title with a wink and nod as Boy Scouts vocalist, lyricist, and main instrumentalist Taylor Vick moons I’m all right, I swear/I’m all right/how dare you. Coming right on the heels of that is “Throw Away Love,” a great lyrical showing with an episodic feeling, like Boy Scouts is looking to expand the canon of their personal storytelling in micro: your friends I thought they were mine too/turned out they left along with you/now I’m a living example of/throw away love. Limiting the song title to one verse was a smart idea on Boy Scout’s part, as it would have been easy to turn those last few lines into a repeated chorus, but by making us wait for the payoff, the line — and the song itself — gains emotional weight and resonance.
Vick’s voice is quite distinct, floating somewhere in the realm between adolescence and adulthood. This isn’t to say that she sounds childlike or immature, but moreso that her voice can inspire a sense of nostalgia, especially on “In Ya Too,” where her easy delivery is doubled up during the chorus, making me feel like my eerie twin camp counselors pulled out a guitar during the s’mores roast.
The album overall is even-keeled despite the emotional weight; shower-sobbing breakup playlist music this is not, but post-breakup playlist music — when you have begrudgingly tried to “learn from the experience” and found the lessons wanting — it certainly is.
Album closer “You Were Once” works as a great wrap up of the album’s themes; guarded nostalgia, impermanence, the fallibility of friends and lovers. It was the year that I lost my friend/I knew I’d never be the same again, Vick sings, some of that even keel crumbling into the ocean at the last possible second, not unlike the best of us when we try to pretend we are more fine than we truly are.