Walking Papers EP
It’s a shame to have to write about Apollo Up! in the past tense. After just two full-lengths — Light the End and Burn It Through (2004), a diamond in the rough, followed by Chariots of Fire (2006), outstanding in every way — this post-punk trio from Nashville, TN has apparently called it quits, leaving this five-track EP as a swan song. (For the trivia-minded, erstwhile Apollo Up! frontman Jay Leo Philips now plays bass with …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.)
The walking papers of the title, however, aren’t necessarily the band’s own. With a band this steeped in political sentiment, there’s a good chance that the papers were being handed (with no small amount of delight) to the Bush administration — something that was inevitable even at the start of 2008 when the EP was put to tape, long before the exact outcome of the November elections could be seen. The first, fraught, fleet-footed track, wryly called “The Heartbreak of Victory,” wastes no time in conjuring the mood of those past eight years: “The call went out, the flags went up / Hot silence in the streets / They’re practicing maneuvers now / […] Don’t be alarmed / It’s just a test / […] It’s stand-up comic tragedy / A cough and no applause / ‘Is this thing on?'”
It continues with “Habakkuk,” titled after a Persian Jewish prophet who railed in particular against unrighteous aggressors, the justification of evil, and those who shed blood for personal gain in his eponymous book of the Hebrew Bible. As one tale goes, he was whisked away to Babylon (modern-day Iraq) to deliver a divine pep talk to Daniel, who at that time was readying himself to be lion fodder. “These folks shall pay for everything they’ve done / and everything they took from this land,” sings Phillips, perhaps in character, perhaps in commiseration. “And nothing that they do / and nothing that they say / can stop their certain fate / Though now they revel / one day they’ll pay.” It’s one of the few Apollo Up! songs to make use of keyboards, and one of even fewer where it doesn’t sound out of place.
Standout track “Guilty Fever” burns slow before igniting while Phillips admonishes, “You’ve got guilt but you don’t know why / Pupils expand as you curse your eyes.” There’s a certain magic in these moments when Phillips, drummer Jereme Frey, and bassist Mike Shepherd seem to have achieved some sort of telepathic link; it’s as if the music — its mood, its weight, its technical execution — stems from a single person, not three. Maybe trios reach this enviable cohesion more easily than your usual four-pieces; but the musical, philosophical connection Phillips et al had is, at any rate, no small thing. “Guilty Fever” is a prime example of why, no matter what sort of success Apollo Up!’s members find in their new careers with more renowned bands, there was something rare and invaluable in their work together.
While the politics and paranoia of their earlier releases are undiminished on Walking Papers, the nimble, furious guitar work that exalted songs like “Walking the Plank” and “Situation: Hot!” on Chariots of Fire is less evident here. It’s the sole disappointment on an otherwise strong and, sadly, final EP.
Apollo Up!: apolloup.com