You're Not Alone (EP)


Pleasuresonic Recordings, 2020

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Semisonic never broke up. Rather, they faded out like the last song on a classic album, as the smashing success of “Closing Time” and Feeling Strangely Fine (1998) grew smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, with little but wide open spaces ahead. Dropped by MCA after their 2001 follow-up All About Chemistry failed to achieve the same high orbit as FSF, the band gradually lapsed into an extended hiatus, getting together for the occasional live show without ever either calling it quits or recording new music.

In the meantime, each member of the Minneapolis trio explored new creative outlets. Drummer Jacob Slichter penned the superb memoir So You Want To Be a Rock & Roll Star and began teaching creative writing at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College. Bassist John Munson played with several Minnesota groups, most notably The New Standards. And singer/guitarist and principal songwriter Dan Wilson moved his young family to Los Angeles and built a new career as a songwriter-for-hire, writing with and for the Dixie Chicks, Adele, Taylor Swift, Chris Stapleton, John Legend, and others, and winning a pair of Grammys in the process.

In interviews around the rollout of this new EP, Wilson confessed that for a long time he felt like he’d forgotten how to write a Semisonic song, his taste for the group’s characteristic big guitars and crashing dynamics having evolved in new directions over the intervening years. Even a couple of well-received Semisonic reunion shows in 2017 couldn’t quite light the spark to write new music for the band. That spark finally arrived in the unlikely form of a request for songs from Liam Gallagher of Oasis—a request that thrust Wilson back into that beefy-guitars rock and roll mindset and helped him rediscover his Semisonic songwriting mojo. The trio subsequently reconvened in Minneapolis last year to record for a planned spring release, pushed back to September by the pandemic.

The promise made by the words “Semisonic reunion” is immediately kept by the opening title track (and first single), which reels you in with a sinuous verse riff before exploding into its air-guitar-worthy chorus. It’s the sound thousands of fans have been waiting for years to hear again—a sharp echo of Feeling Strangely Fine, with a lyric that couldn’t be more prescient and timely, an anthem to overcoming feelings of isolation and powerlessness.

“All It Would Take” follows, its piano intro and stacked harmonies reminiscent of All About Chemistry even as it builds to a soaring chorus with tasteful guitar accents. The lyric, a meditation on the possibility of personal growth, is a quiet gem that reminds you Semisonic has always been a thinking man’s band (Wilson and Slichter met as students at Harvard). The seriousness of the first pair is then gleefully left-turned by the self-deprecating wit of the autobiographical “Basement Tapes,” a bouncy, sweetly earnest road song about the band’s early days “Still just living the Big Star dream.”

The mildly retro “Don’t Make Up Your Mind” is steady-on power-pop with a ringing, rather Springsteenesque melodic hook. Like the rest of these songs, it’s tight and focused, clocking in at a concise 2:53. All too soon, “Lightning” closes out the EP in fine form, a mid-tempo number with a beefy chorus riff and a lyric about hoping to renew a relationship that could apply equally to reuniting a band: “Am I asking for too much for lightning to strike me / Strike me a second time… It was magical then / So why can't we have magic again?” Why indeed?

With no label to answer to and Wilson producing, Semisonic was free to simply enjoy making that particular sound that only they can make, and the result is a strong and welcome addition to the band’s catalogue. You’re Not Alone is classic Semisonic redux, full of catchy riffs, powerful musical dynamics, lyrics that exude warmth and hopefulness, and groove for days. At a moment like this, it’s as welcome as a big hug from an old friend.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2020 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Pleasuresonic Recordings, and is used for informational purposes only.