- Reviewed by Jeremy V. Jones Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2009 11 Aug
- We Can Try
- The One Thing
- One Last Time (Darlin' II)
- Story of a Boy
- Miss You
- Changed by You
If you're looking for music to make a girl go weak in the knees, Between the Trees can help. Spain packs a big, shiny sound brimming with the throes of young love and heart-on-the-sleeve declarations of devotion.
After generating big buzz with its 2007 debut, Between the Trees became the first band upstreamed from a Universal indie label to a Universal major. It sounds like the label has put some big backing behind the group, perhaps homogenizing its sound in the process.
The songwriting is savvy and the production is slick. Hooks are plentiful and sticky. Piano and towering guitars mingle in Brit-pop anthems. Ryan Kirkland's vocals soar, though at times sound like he's trying too hard to channel The Fray. It's not hard to imagine most of these songs soundtracking Grey's Anatomy or the latest romantic comedy. Maybe that's the influence of Stuart Brawley, whom the label tapped to add finishing production and whose credits include Michael Jackson, Don Henley, and Celine Dion. Whatever the source, the record feels like a collection of storm-the-radio power singles.
The fervor of love provides the unifying theme. The title track came after a phone argument between Kirkland and his girlfriend. He said, "I'll give you the world." She said "I just want you." Spain sounded like a classy, romantic destination to escape. Then there's "The One Thing," "One Last Time (Darlin' II)," and "The Story of a Boy"—love songs and kissing references ("Bliss, the gentle touch of your lips" on "The One Thing") sprinkled among relational coming-of-age themes. But grouped into tracks three through five, they start to run together. The earnest ballad "Changed by You" was written by Kirkland's brother to propose to his wife, and it works as the album's quieter closer.
To their credit, the trio pulls off its gushing aspirations with sincerity. The ideals of love and the frustrations of long-distance relationships are not too big a stretch for twentysomethings who have been on the road since high school. It is refreshing that they chose to revel in hope and triumphant love rather than wallow in angst or heartbreak—even if the love-conquers-all themes skew idealized.
What's lacking is the rawer, post-punk jangle and emo grit of BTT's debut, both sonically and topically. (With heavy involvement in To Write Love on Her Arms, earlier songs covered cutting and addiction.) "Move" pushes the farthest with a guitar riff that harkens The Police or Anberlin and adds a different dimension. But most of the rougher edges have been polished for Spain.
That leaves a talented band with a solid, but poppier sophomore record. Expect to hear portions of it on TV, movies or ads, giving Between the Trees broader popularity. But the band should push harder to reclaim some of its former bite in order to further distinguish its own sound. In the meantime, here's to staying power for young love and for young musicians with big potential.