First Things First
(Take This To Heart Records)
Albums always have a way of coming out at exactly the right time. The world outside is changing, trees are embracing a more bare landscape while also changing the color palette of any normal commute. Hodera’s newest album embraces this change and exposes the core of it; it’s natural and it cannot be stopped. On their first debut LP, United By Birdcalls, frontman Matthew Smith was scratching at any surface looking for reasons or ways to understand key themes. These included depression, anxiety and trying to find a sense of purpose. It was an album with emotional avenues to be explored, but it seemed like it came up without an answer.
First Things First picks up where the debut left off, but there’s more confidence in exactly where Smith and company are in their life. Having fortified the band with guitarist Doug Gallo, bassist Alek Mager & drummer Scott Tilley, there’s a strong sense of unity and understanding, starting immediately with “Out of Sync.” The entire song is a gradual build, with Smith’s ever reflective lyrics looking outward at the past, but inward on the climax of the song, going from “I know I can’t always be happy” to “the pressure won’t ease and I’m fucking angry.” The seismic crash of weaving guitars and vibrant chord progressions funnel between a more mature approach, focused on not looking to feel better, but being more aware at the surrounding world, grasping a familiarity and never letting go.
First Things First tackles plenty of fears that linger in the minds of many. Death, emptiness, depressive isolation and the anxiety of being anywhere are relevant on many songs, but they’re conquered on songs like “Baltimore” and “North Dakota.” Both songs find Hodera’s tight knit group having a bit of fun, joined by a chorus of vocals; it’s empowering. Immediately following the bouncy and compassionate “Baltimore,” Hodera’s street dim to a candle light, in a sort of mourning. “Just For Today” is by far the band’s most advanced song, weaving through multiple time signatures and swelling with an emotional weight. The slow open sets the frame for a horrifying image; the loss of someone and how to cope. As the drums start to pulse the song to life, the focus finds a lens on surviving day to day, on being present with one’s fears. The song is a highlight of syncopation and dynamics, shining a light on the intricate songwriting abilities of the quartet.
First Things First is also an album full of moments that shake listeners to their core. Often times the writing style is seeking for the perfect place to collapse. Delicate guitars flutter through “The Saddest Sentence” only to find their footing by the rest of the instruments, sticking the landing with an emotive cry out against the trap of loneliness. “Best Intentions” weaves a heartfelt story together full of memories, constantly growing in tension but never releasing, okay with staying exactly how things need to be. It’s this clever and detailed songwriting that makes First Thing First a more fine tuned orchestra, full of ups and downs with beautiful narratives.
If there was one word that describes Smith as a lyricist, it’s thoughtful. Always examining what feelings mean in every situation, First Things First wades through the entire spectrum of mental health and finds ways to make them relatable to more than oneself. “Four White Walls” plays out like a conversation piece that one has late at night, wanting to share it with someone, anyone willing to listen. Opening one’s heart is a heavy task, but Hodera encourages it, coming to a close with a suffocating, tearjerking performance. The very heart of the band is placed into each song, opening a forum of people to join along, because First Things First begs for a unified perspective, calling on every ear and voice to rally an anthemic cry that even though the world is changing and nothing can be done to stop it, it can be embraced together.
First Things First takes the coming of age tale and adds a soundtrack. It takes the love and compassion from being everywhere at once and places it where it needs to be, and that is in a 43 minute tale of love and everything that tries to rip that away. The record is out via Take This To Heart Records on October 20th.