Album: Good Years – Bummer Year review

by Phil Scarisbrick

Making the serious feel fun, Bummer Year takes stock of where the world is falling short, and it makes for deeply personal, stunning debut

The concept of the protest song is usually aligned with universal causes that can inspire entire global movements. From the hope that ‘hard times come again no more,’ through the profound symbolism of This Land Is Your Land and Blowin’ In The Windright up to Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, the subject matter is usually something much greater than the individual artist. Sometimes, though, a protest song is needed when the mayhem and trauma is much more personal. While it will usually hone in on something more specific, it can create a sense of empathy amongst those who find themselves – or have found themselves – in similar moments of peril. 

For Austin-based, Keeled Scales signed project, Good Looks, their debut album sees them put this concept into action. The resulting record is a collection of seven vignettes looking through band leader, Tyler Jordan’s experiences growing up in Texas, and how grander universal themes shaped him personally.

Bummer Year opens with a simple break-up song, Almost Automatic. The juxtaposed, joyous-sounding melodies and heartbroken lyrics create the perfect opening moment on the record. Jordan’s vocals are full of exacerbated angst as he exclaims – ‘Why am I waiting on you, babe?’ The intertwining guitars continue into next track, 21. Taking aim at how the structures of capitalism strip the innocence of youth – taking a tighter grip of you as you get older. ‘I wish I was 21 / Somewhere swimming in the sun / watch me floating weightless, I am free,’ sings Jordan, before pondering how big corporations may one day be eaten by their own greed; a theme that rears its head multiple times throughout the album.

The album’s title track is a heart-rending ode to the disconnect that Jordan feels with the people who he grew up with, but ultimately sees the positive qualities that they possess being more important than their political persuasions or behavioural habits. It is a profound and nuanced look at how easily it is to treat people in a binary ‘good or bad’ way – when the reality is we’re all myriad of contradictory qualities, and can ultimately find the good in anyone.

The Here Comes The Sun-esque guitar intro on First Crossing builds into a track that, like Almost Automaticthat feels bright and joyous, but where the sonic aesthetic does little to soften the melancholy projected by the lyrics – ‘It’s hard to give love when you’ve only gotten pain from it.’ Vision Boards looks at how easy it is for society to see poverty as a choice, rather than the result of circumstances far greater than the decisions made by individuals, and it is the moment on the album where Jordan’s vitriol is most acutely felt, as the distortion on the vocals feels like it ramps up in direct correlation with his exacerbation. ‘To the voice inside my head / Shut the fuck up / ‘Cause I am not listening anymore,’ he sings to project his ire internally before fighting back to the outside world with the repeated coda, ‘I am deserving of your love.

The real beauty of Bummer Year is in how personal Good Looks make the grand themes they cover feel. It’s very easy to make big statements about the state of the world as you see it, but it is another for those protestations to take root and really make the listener care. At the heart of this record is empathy – both in terms of how Jordan identifies with his community and how you, as the listener, feel a kinship with what he is singing. It is an incredibly mature record that, despite its serious themes, is a ton of fun to listen to. 

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