For their second album, Michigan duo Bedroom Ceilings chose to create a concept album of sorts, based around a protagonist who is struggling with the relatable themes of their place in the modern world, their happiness, along with the feelings that they are undeserving of success. These are big existential issues to handle, but the band do it by injecting a healthy dose of their indie-rock sound into confessional lyrics.
The tracks here are constructed in a slightly unusual sense, as is to say it’s not a simple case of (in the words of Kurt Cobain) verse-chorus-verse. These songs are like long diary entries in their structure, so if you’re coming in hoping for a catchy hook, you’re going to be severely disappointed.
The opening is an introduction that’s less a piece of music and more collected layers of static and noise with fragments of spoken words (including snatches of dialogue about creating an album). The first true album track comes in the form of ‘Well-Designed Robot’, a meditation on trying to survive with depression in the world we live in (“Put a pair of goggles on my face / Escape the reality I’m living,” sings lead vocalist Dean Chittenden), partly inspired by Sylvia Plath and her writing (“Sylvia Plath knew it best”). We start with a slight country twang, but soon we’ve moved on to much more indie acoustic territory with strong echoes of The Smiths.
‘Grace is Articulate’, a song about nostalgia, fittingly channels artists like Bright Eyes and Ryan Adams, the kind of performers so many musicians who are now coming of age were influenced by in their formative years. “Grace stayed over held / My safest stuffed animal / We made a fort to sleep in,” sings Chittenden, vocals shaky and raw. ‘Spring Grass’, with its strong baseline and fun musical breakdown, is upbeat even when the theme of the song is seasonal depression.
‘Journal Entry: A Dream’ is pretty much what it says on the tin: a dream that had been noted in Chittenden’s journal that he turned into a song. It has a 60s acoustic folk feel, with Chittenden’s vocals coming in more nasally here, and also some of the richest lyrics on the album: “Snowflakes taste like freedom / When they touch the tip of my tongue / I jump from the balcony / An airplane with no destination / Keep soaring faster / High above peaks of catholic churches”. ‘A Time Traveler Meets Present Day’ is an indie acoustic Ray Kurzweil-style rumination on technology and where it might take us in the future.
The wordily titled ‘Clairvoyance is Never Simple’ is about a loved one of Chittenden’s who doesn’t see as much worth in themselves as he sees in them (“You are the artist I will always to seem love / But you are painting a girl crying into a pillow / Fear that distance constantly pushes me away / But darling, I’m a pendulum swinging back when you’re ready”). The final track is ‘Une Sortie D’urgence’ (that’s French for “an emergency exit”) and the tale it tells of struggles with intimacy is a fitting end to an album that explores a range of difficult human emotions within the modern world.
We could all use some guidance right about now, and Chittenden has said of the album that, “‘Another Bulb Burned Out’ is supposed to teach you how to live again”. While these songs leading to the discovery of a new raison d’etre might be a bit of an ambitious target, they do leave you with plenty to ponder, and perhaps with a feeling of being a little less alone in your struggles, which is a worthy thing indeed.