Track 01: Amy AKA Spent Gladiator
This is a contained and mellow track with inspiring, poetic lyrics. It’s only 2.5 minutes long, so there isn’t a whole lot to discuss. The refrain (“Stay alive, / Just stay alive”) is somewhat comforting and provides a counterpoint for the seeming recklessness promoted in the rest of the song. (I had more difficulty than anticipated in writing this, as my urge to sing along was undeniable.)
Track 02: Lakeside View Apartments Suite
This track is slow and serves as a stark contrast to its upbeat predecessor. The piano makes for a soft and dramatic instrumental side, while John Darnielle alternates between impassioned gasps and more subdued tones. The touch of synths at the end of the track adds an ethereal note to an otherwise very solid song.
Track 03: Cry for Judas
The brass on this track gives it a unique quality among the others on the album; it opens the song with an infectious sense of fanfare. “Cry for Judas” seems to have an air of revelry about it, although the subject matter isn’t necessarily something that warrants celebration (“I’m still here, / when all is lost”). As always, though, the lyrics are captivating and utterly indicative of Darnielle’s skills as a songwriter. (“White chalk Baphomet” is such a curious line, but completely entrancing and perfectly delivered.)
Track 04: Harlem Roulette
This track starts with a stirring guitar, which continues steadily through–a consistent counterpoint to the expansive and sometimes ethereal descriptions in the lyrics. A fairly quick tempo underlies Darnielle’s slow singing, making for a very balanced and finished sound overall.
Track 05: White Cedar
A subdued, mellow track, “White Cedar” once again brings in the brass section, but this time for longing, unearthly notes that accompany the piano. The drums (and lyrics) reinforce this quasi-spiritual quality. Melancholy, but strong.
Track 06: Until I Am Whole
One of the eeriest tracks on the album, this song utilizes vocal filters periodically to create something of an aquatic sound. Kinda spooky.
Track 07: Night Light
This track jumps right into the action with urgent vocals and drums. It follows in the spooky vein, although the quicker tempo contrasts heavily with the previous track. Other than the drums, the instrumentals are droning and heavily distorted. Once again, this makes for a very balanced sound.
Track 08: The Diaz Brothers
This is one of the band’s celebratory tracks, and also among their most-loved. The up-tempo piano and drums provide an excellent sonic foundation for Darnielle’s revelatory vocals. Short, but an excellent listen.
Track 09: Counterfeit Florida Plates
Something of a narrative track, this one hints at more than it reveals. The ambiguity between first person narration and second person narration makes for an interesting listen.
Track 10: In Memory of Satan
Another mellow track with brass accompaniment, this track is intensely introspective and lyrically outstanding. The instrumentals are quite soothing, in contrast to the strung-out lyrics.
Track 11: Spent Gladiator 2
With guitar work hearkening back to the band’s earliest days, this track presents an interesting permutation of the band’s sound as a whole. “Spent Gladiator 2” advocates persistence in the face of adversity, as opposed to a more “carpe diem” philosophy of the first track–although both are short.
Track 12: Transcendental Youth
Starting with a strong statement from the brass, this eponymous track seems to serve as a bridge between the passive and active songs on the album, with energetic instrumentals and slow, soft vocals. The piano fits so well into the song that I almost didn’t notice it.