Written by Julia Massey
In my communities of creativity here in Seattle, I find myself, in many instances, meeting someone who brings up Don Farwell, or Earwig Studio. Some of the time I’m the one who brings it up, but when the mutual understanding of the person and the place is reached, there is a spark (you BET of joy) because we both know how special the human, and the space he fills, are.
Knowing Don as an engineer/producer reveals a side of someone who cares deeply about the artist, and helps to capture sounds in their purest and most beautiful, dynamic way possible. And so, for him to have control of the knobs for the band Suitcase, one he shares with fellow Emerald City gems Ed Otto on (Vox, guitar), Clint Hoyler (bass) and Joe Patterson (drums), what we have is a highly anticipated scenario. Fortunately, for all of his friends and fans, the reward of Come Back is considerable.
When “Jack Burton,” the album’s opening track emerges, the listener is immediately launched into a pointed energy. Someone is angry, and they are dealing with it. “I’ve run out of conversations with you” sings Otto. Some lines are more screamed than sung and you simply cannot turn away. The rhythmic guitar line gives off a kind of raw gumption, catching you completely off guard for what you thought this album might be.
The second track starts to answer that feeling. It still has that driving aesthetic that says “I’m only getting started,” as Farwell’s vocals, treated with some kind of crunchy, strung-out-on-something vibe make the video in your head pan from the angry vibes to one of anguish. ‘Good God, Why Did I Do This?’ is the perfect auditory representation to that question.
What immediately follows is a powerhouse ear worm that feels like the rollercoaster of this album has just reached the tiptop of the climb and been let loose. “Mary’s” holds nothing back, and all of the prowess of the players in Suitcase come to life. That solo! Damnit! This is the point in the album where folks at your party will say, “hold on a minute, WHO is this?”
Following “Mary’s,” the listener is given a chance to calm the adrenaline rush with “Super Knife.” With a simply beautiful melody that gently says “take all the time that you need” it ends with the meditative question “are we wandering alone down a western road?” repeated with lush harmonies. It makes you hope that at least we’ll have this tune with us if we are.
Farwell gives us a very much appreciated glimpse into the personality of Suitcase at the beginning of “Cooler Heads” in which they discuss whether or not they should have a “killer guitar solo” instantly followed by said killer guitar solo as well as a pop gem that reminds me of a more fleshed out Semisonic. Hoyler and Patterson drive the energy that leads to a wonderfully fun ending.
When “San Francisco” comes around, you’re left with the perennial question on this album: is that Farwell or Otto singing the high or low note? It is uncanny how often these two get confused on the record. The payoff is that you get treated to harmonies that are so richly similar (yet different) that your brain decides to give up figuring it out and surrender to what is a perfect acoustic number. The bridge surprises with a lift in the key and you can’t help but think, “I’m not so sure that the angry voice at the beginning feels so mad anymore.” One cannot help but smile about all that is good about Seattle’s friends to the south when you hear this song.
Alas, the bad feelings return, but you’re glad they have in “This Party Sucks.” Farwell croons, “Head west to the setting sun/Find out that your mother’s done/I’m craving menthol cigarettes” and the tone is set. The chorus provides a soundtrack for everyone who has ever felt this way at a party (which is probably everyone). The groove and instrumental breaks provide a chance for mourners about this reality to sway with the comfort of knowing that the folks in Suitcase have got their back. Ironically, the emotion in Farwell’s voice make me WANT to party with these people.
“12 Steps” feels like the partner to “This Party Sucks.” It sounds hopeful. It understands that the past has had its fair share of problems, but it doesn’t have to play out like a broken record.
The title track comes next. As a recording artist, I’ve always felt like having a title track creates a bit of pressure for an album. Am I supposed to take everything I feel on this track and apply it to all of the other songs? I overthink it. This example helps me understand. Come Back is glorious. The form, the arrangement, the harmonies, the ROCK. It’s also accompanied by a genius video make by Lance Hofstad (Estocar) that features each band member’s face performing their respective parts in, you guessed it (except that you didn’t) UNDERWATER, but the faces are looking at you vertically!! It’s the totally unexpected yet perfect visual for a song that is full of strong, scared, and nostalgic imagery. The longing in this song is what I experience on the whole album.
Phew! The weight of Come Back’s glory is effortlessly unwound and pushed forward with “Wyatt’s A Boss.” This song plays with beat emphasis in phrases and time signatures in all of my favorite ways. Farwell’s voice and Hoyler’s lines work together in a way that just feels so right. This is definitely one to play over and over again. I don’t care if Wyatt was an asshole if he inspired this song. There is a very good chance that Wyatt is a toy of Farwell’s son, in which case, I’m even more grateful for the guy.
“Don’t get me started I want to go home” chants the penultimate track. This one feels like it goes out to all of the performers out there. Anyone who has ever felt the fatigue of being in front of a crowd and wanted to get back to where they can “find [their] hat” will relate to the sentiment of this song.
And finally, the album sends you off with the chilling “Coos Bay.” It’s haunting progression, harmonies, and sparse verses are complemented by a super-powerful pre-chorus and chorus that create the kind of dynamic that pulls at your heartstrings the way they did in high school; when you recorded your favorite song from the radio and you cheered “YES!!!” because now you could listen to it over and over at your own leisure. In a world where you can do that with any song anyone ever made at any time, it’s TRULY refreshing to find a song, and an album, and a band that makes you feel those same feelings again.
You can catch Suitcase at their album release party at Clock-Out Lounge on October 11! Ticket info: HERE. You can stream and preorder Come Back via Bandcamp below: