The first time I heard Backseat Lovers was just a couple weeks ago, roughly two-plus years since their debut album When We Were Friends dropped. I happened to be in my car and in no hurry, and satellite radio’s 30-minute or so “virtual concert” featured this band I’d never heard of, with one of the bandmates playfully introducing each song (as “Pool House” is introed on the actual album). These brief narratives hooked me — until listening to each of the six or so songs totally hooked me with the excitement of discovery, the absolute thrill of hearing music so uncharted that in short order, you realized that regardless of any song’s open, you had to stick with it and listen to the closing note to fully absorb, appreciate and applaud Backseat Lovers’ altogether breakthrough, break-all-the-rules approach to their singular sound.
If this sounds like hype, it’s only because this reviewer is hyper. When We Were Friends is the best indie-rock-whatever-else album I’ve heard in the past couple years, and Backseat Lovers is the most daring, talented, nuanced, whimsical, anthemic, poetic and otherwise brilliant band.
Hailing from Heber City and Sandy, Utah, the four members of Backseat Lovers are roughly of legal drinking age at this writing. They are: Josh Harmon, lead vocals and guitar; Jonas Swanson, lead guitar and vocals; Juice Welch, percussion and background vocals; and KJ Ward, bass. The band was “formed” when Josh and Jonas attended an open mic event, failed to even get to the stage, and serenaded each other into the wee hours of the morning with their own music.
But that was then. And When We Were Friends is now.
Defying definition. Rejecting rules.
There’s no quick answer to the question: who do Backseat Lovers sound like? In fact, that’s not so much a question or an accolade as it is an insult. While I may have sensed influences or salutes to The Head and the Heart, Radiohead, Social Distortion and others if I wanted to channel bands prior — those are only brief moments in the songs of Backseat Lovers, which is their true greatness.
And there true greatness is this: there may be 9 titled tunes on When We Were Friends, but in truth there are 30 or more songs on this exceptional album — because back to my lead about listening to every melody start to finish, you’ll be treated to at least 3 or 4 unique compositions within each title.
This is a band that approaches each song with the question: where can we take this, and how can we be exceptionally uncommon in its direction from start of journey to the end, making each song truly unique, with surprises at every turn, ultimately kind of mind blowing?
Pick your play. Backseat Lovers music, if it can be defined, is defined as: sometimes tender, sometimes raw, sometimes melodic, sometimes anthemic, sometimes hooky, sometimes mashup. They’ll change up tone, mood, volume, tempo, energy, emotion, arrangements and vocals within each song. Any number of songs — like one of my many favorites as enjoyed in the video above, “Sinking Ship” — can open tender and acoustic, explode with a powerful bass line and churning guitars, transition from a cappella-esque vocals to rock rage, stop, start again, churn and burn some more, only to conclude after 5:07 leaving you wanting more, more, more.
You simply cannot anticipate when, where or how a song will shift gears, hard stop or take off in a new direction. That’s amazing stuff, and Backseat Lovers seems to do it with ease, and on more than a few occasions, with we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously fun. Now that’s genius.
As varied as the inspired songwriting is, the lyrics of most of When We Were Friends are often of the same subject — females, and the joy or angst of entering or departing a relationship — a legitimate theme and applicable to most any age and gender. And when they’re really feeling it, their lyrics tell powerful emotions:
And while I’m a fan of every note of music on When We Were Friends, I’m particularly fond of “Pool House,” “Intuition,” “Kilby Girl,” “Dugout,” “Davy Crochet,” “Maple Syrup” and “Sinking Ship.” If you’re counting, that’s nearly the entire album. Nicely done, guys.
So bravo, Backseat Lovers! Making music this adventurous and this awesome ain’t easy — so carry on, continue to explore, have fun, get rich and don’t get lost. Oh, and do them a favor and pony up for the album on any streaming site, or visit their website here. And check out their earlier EP when you can, too.