REVIEW: Mike Mains And The Branches – ‘Calm Down, Everything Is Fine’

Mike Mains calm down review

Artist: Mike Mains and the Branches
Album: Calm Down, Everything Is Fine
Genre: Pop Rock
Release Date: 2/18/2014

We live in a fast-paced world in which every day is packed to the brim with distractions, demands, and deadlines. There is always another task to accomplish or email to respond to, and it’s easy to let stress build up until you’re at your breaking point. Mike Mains and the Branches step into that world to offer a breath of fresh air in the form of eleven shimmering, propulsive indie rock songs. The message of their sophomore full-length, Calm Down, Everything Is Fine, is laid bare right in its title, so take forty minutes with your phone off and your eyes closed to let it sink in.

The journey begins with “Played It Safe,” a brooding track that introduces the frustration and discontentedness to which the rest of the album responds, before taking an abrupt turn for the upbeat and inspirational on “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” The dichotomy of chaos and calm is revisited on the pairing of lead single “Noises” and “Slow Down,” the best of the album’s ballads. The waves of tension and release on these groups of tracks are a mark of smart sequencing, and they keep Calm Down varied and interesting throughout.

Many of Mike Mains’ best lyrics are found in the second half of the album. Whether he is laying out his ambitions on “In the Night” (“I’ve got the Springsteen shoulder-shake, and I’ve got this pristine plan to make every fountain and pen and camera lens tell stories of the thoughts I think”), pulling inspiration and, ultimately, triumph from heartbreak on “Where Love Dies” (“I can’t foot the bill for you to go and find your soul”), or showing his vulnerable side on “Stones,” his talent as a songwriter is obvious in the vivid and personal stories found on Calm Down. While it isn’t truly a concept album, all of these songs hint at a unifying theme: Take both the good and the bad in stride, and don’t let any of it overwhelm you. The message is summed up neatly in the final verse of the tempo-shifting title track with Mains’ most quotable one-liner: “If it’s true that there’s a line between heaven and hell, then I hope to God someday I can balance it well.”

As tightly composed and well-executed as Calm Down is, I can’t help but think there is some unrealized potential here. Mains is such a dynamic frontman that it often sounds like he’s trying to fight his way out of the band’s fairly safe indie rock sound. That’s not to say he doesn’t fit in at all, and he shows great restraint on the album’s slower tracks, but certain parts of the album – the vocal inflections in “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “Burn,” for instance – leave me wondering what he would sound like against something truly off the wall, like the Dismemberment Plan.

In the end, however, what’s not there isn’t nearly as important as what is, and Calm Down, Everything Is Fine has more than enough substance to become a fixture in pop-rock playlists for months to come.

Score: 8/10
Review written by Troy Sennett – Follow him on Twitter

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