Music Review: Copeland – You Are My Sunshine (2008)

Nothing in particular immediately stands out about Copeland.  They’re a pleasant indie rock four-piece from ? with straight-forward performances and a modest following.  Although each release has grown slightly lusher than the previous, seldom do they attempt at any great level of complexity (one of a few exceptions being the exquisite “Love Affair” from 2006’s Eat, Sleep, Repeat, a song that proves they are undoubtedly capable).  So what is it exactly that makes Copeland a worthwhile band amongst a bevy of destined-for-the-café indie pop/rock acts?

What sets Copeland apart is the steadiness and consistency with which they’ve matured, and the small variations in style they regularly attempt and usually succeed in.  Copeland has unmistakably grown with each album, giving each of their efforts a distinct feel.  Their first album, Beneath Medicine Tree, was an album that sounded like just that: a first album.  It’s by far their most lo-fi, stripped down album, and also their most honest and endearing.  Sophomore album In Motion saw Copeland refining their songwriting capabilities with a more polished and calculated approach, and also saw them turning up their amps to crank out a few more rockers.  Eat, Sleep, Repeat was more polished and well-executed still, but brought back a little of the heart from Medicine.  It also attempted at a greater level of variety and experimenting than their previous two, balancing out the acoustic of Medicine and the rock of Motion, sometimes exceeding their predecessors in either direction.  It’s difficult to label any album as certainly worse or better than another, which is one of my favorite things about Copeland; each endeavor is distinct without ever sacrificing songwriting or sounding too much like another band.

You Are My Sunshine continues these trends, sometimes to a fault.  Every song is very well-polished and well-executed, to the point that it becomes difficult to differentiate a string of songs.  A few listens alleviate this, but it nevertheless would have been nice for the variety to be a little more obvious in some areas.  Another slight worry is that Aaron Marsh’s vocals have become so polished that they’re almost too pretty and too perfect.  He’s certainly worked on his voice since Medicine, with positive results depending on your preference, but here he uses layers of vocals to reinforce the notes almost to the point of abuse, displayed most evidently by vocals-only beginning of “Should You Return”.  It’s never to the point that it’s too irritating, but it will make some fans yearn for the olden days.

Another fault of Sunshine is that it sounds too much like a ‘normal’ Copeland album, whereas the first three each had that defining characteristic about them that made it a littler harder to label Copeland as a whole.  Copeland makes it a little easier on critics with this album, as it doesn’t really do anything you wouldn’t expect, and nearly every song is comparable to another, meaning it’s hard to pick out the stand out tracks, and everyone will probably have different choices.

Thankfully, these faults far from ruin the album; it’s still going to be difficult to declare any of their albums the best or the worst.  If I complained earlier that the songs were too similar, then rest assured that these are the kinds of songs you would want to be too similar if you had to choose.  Each song is beautifully arranged, with greater detail than anything they’ve done.  The instrumentation is lush, and Aaron’s songwriting continues to mature.  They demonstrate a tasteful control on the minimal “The Day I Lost My Voice (The Suitcase Song)”, and expand on ideas they had hinted at on Eat, Sleep, Repeat with the 10 minute (and occasionally boring but generally well-spent) finale, “Not So Tough Found Out”.  “Strange and Unprepared” doesn’t stand out from your typical Copeland slow-burner, but still does a nice job of pacing the album.  Besides these three, the remaining songs are relatively formulaic but always beautifully lush and well-written.

If you judge Sunshine based on the direction of the band’s career, it’s tolerable.  Judge it solely on its own worth however, and you’ll find that Copeland have put together another collection of songs that can stand next to anything they’ve done in the past, and above the majority of their peers.  They’re going to need to be a little more daring on their next album, but for the time being, You Are My Sunshine satisfies.

Final Score –  8.3/10

Highlights – The Grey Man, Chin Up, The Day I Lost My Voice (The Suitcase Song), On the Safest Ledge

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