Tim Perry is too tired to be hopeful.
But repeat listens reveal something much deeper. Never mind the fact Perry's a tad too old to fit comfortably in a generation that's been gaslighted into thinking it's their fault the deck is stacked against them—the truth is, the world is fucked, and wondering if it's even fixable is exhausting. In Perry's case, it's often paralyzing.
Me You They We's disaffected worldview is a long way from the bright-eyed perseverance of "Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)," the Portland band's 2014 breakout single. Still, the album begins optimistically enough with "Way Back In," a playful nugget of soul pop that finds Perry delving into his psyche with the hope of emerging resolute. Despite its lyrics about emotional clutter, "Way Back In" sounds clear and determined. Taut percussion drives tidy layers of pianos, strings and multitracked vocal harmonies, resulting in a classic indie-baroque sound in the vein of Dr. Dog and Spoon.
Though it's just as breezy, "Needle and Thread" finds Perry running headlong into the roadblock he spends the majority of the record reckoning with. Bummed out by the venomous churn of the news cycle and the futility of existing in an echo chamber, he shifts his focus to the simple act of getting out of bed. He wonders if he day drinks too much over electric pianos that bounce around a cascade of "oohs" and "aahs." From there, the dissonance of the upbeat music and Perry's sour worldview grows exponentially.
Balancing dour emotions with happy music is well-worn territory. But the way Ages and Ages imbue bittersweet arrangements with big-screen grandeur proves the timeless production trick is still worth the effort, provided the bones of the songs themselves are strong. The record's most inspiring moments—the buildup of "Unsung Songs," the self-help hymn "All the Sounds of Summer"—resemble the work of David Fridmann, whose production work with the Flaming Lips became a template for epic, mid-2000s indie rock. Lubricating the wistful falsetto that delivers lyrics like, "While my problems are irrelevant/It doesn't make them any less real," with weeping Mellotrons could come off as incredulous, but Perry and company sell it with as much conviction and confidence as one could expect from such a self-deprecating purview.
On "Hiding Out," Perry laments being too self-involved and apathetic to do any good over a jangly guitar and punchy banjo strums. On "Day From Night," he hopes he can feel alive enough to persist, and on the slow-burning closer, "Forever Cul-de-Sac," Perry likens his state of mind to the endless housing tract he grew up in, awake to the reality but still "always going nowhere."
It's not the handy resolution the album begs for, but if nothing else, it's realistic. Ages and Ages uses comforting music to confront the uncomfortable reality of feeling aware but incapable. Though that offers little in the way of a course of action, knowing you're not the only person too trapped in your head to feel useful is valuable nonetheless.
SEE IT: Ages and Ages plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., dougfirlounge.com, with the Harmaleighs, on Friday, April 26. 9 pm. $13 advance, $15 day of show. 21+.