The Albums That Defined 2014 explores how this year's most influential records have shaped and reflected the wider music landscape. Bry Webb spent 2014 learning how to grow old while revisiting his youth in Constantines. Like Fucked Up, Stephen Malkmus and others, he's learning to balance punk ideals with age and responsibility.
You know what’s fun? Getting together with old friends on a Friday night for a libation and remembering older, simpler times and convincing yourself that you can slip back into your former self seamlessly.
You know what’s hardly as fun? Waking up foggy the next morning confronted with work you haven't finished, a bad hangover and the realization that you’re not young anymore.
Bry Webb had a huge year in 2014. Near the beginning of the year, he announced the hard-charging darlings of Canadian art-rock Constantines would be getting back together for a series of summer concerts and a reissue of their classic 2003 album Shine A Light. The news understandably drowned out chatter about his second solo release, Free Will. You wouldn't know it from Bry Webb himself. Now, it’s not as if Webb was overtly picking favourites this year, but he did very little press for the Cons reunion while he was eager to chat about Free Will.
Free Will is a tender, soft-sung listen that has to be nurtured. It does not bowl you over immediately as Constantines records do. One of Constantines’ strengths was always Webb’s raspy, gravel-filled vocals. But the lyrics themselves were never the focal point. Free Will shows the side of Webb that he may very well was never able to display as Constantines frontman. Throughout the record he is humbled and inspired, both by his age and by his responsibility as a father. He has wisdom to share and that's hard to force through a wall of penetrating feedback.
Webb’s often explored what it means to age with punk ideals, which he certainly isn't rejecting as he revisits the past. There’s certainly still an audience for Constantines; though the members of the band politely declined taking part in our massive Constantines oral history, there were many in the music scene happy to share their enthusiasm.
It's sometimes too easy for punks to refuse to grow old and eventually become caricatures of themselves. This wasn’t in the cards for Webb and Free Will, a languid listen that features songwriting that’s more country than folk compared to his debut release Provider. Nor was it in the cards for Fucked Up, whose 2014 album Glass Boys reckons with the mammoth success of their previous record David Comes To Life, reflects on what it means to be elders of the hardcore scene and and pinpoints the moment when your dream job becomes an actual job. As a generation of punks grows up, they're finding new layers of meaning in the positions they're aging into.
Bry Webb was 36 years old at the time of Free Will’s release but his conscious embracing of adulthood is something many in their early 30s struggle with. They may walk by a nightclub and laugh at the suckers in the line under their breath as they hurry home to a documentary on whale sharks or an Argentinian red wine that’s “aged just right.” But there will always be a part that misses the club and wonders, regretfully, when they lost the will to be young.
That Webb has taken stock and slowed down his sonic language but not his recorded output speaks volumes about his enthusiasm as, for lack of a better term, an old man. For Webb, the Saturday chores are not punishment for the Friday evening out on the town. They are an opportunity to make positive choices that affect the future.