If you’ve spent five minutes or more browsing this site you’ve likely learnt that I have a great deal of love for Baltimore’s Have Mercy. Last year’s emphatic debut The Earth Pushed Back was the first album I reviewed, and I went on to name that record my favourite of 2013, by some distance, comparing it to the likes of Deja Entendu, The 59′ Sound and On The Impossible Past. High praise, I know, so you can imagine my delight when the band announced that they’d be releasing their second full-length album A Place Of Our Own seventeen months after their first. Back then, after they had released their first, I was a guy who’d found a new favourite record and wanted to tell people about it. Now, I’m the same guy but slightly older, and I want to do the same thing – expect me to be biased from here onwards.
The Earth Pushed Back was a very special record, and it’s follow-up is special in a different way. When I stumbled upon Have Mercy last year I was hooked, enthralled, and listening to A Place Of Our Own first time through I wasn’t grabbed in the same way. You can chalk that down to my already abundant familiarity with the band’s music, and I probably would, but Have Mercy’s sophomore record is a slight departure from their first. Here, they offer much of the same, with a greater focus on the musical side of their music. Where their debut was raw and emotional, new in a sense, A Place Of Our Own is polished and professional whilst maintaining that passionate edge – albeit to a lesser extent. It’s perhaps to be expected following a shift from Top Shelf Records (The Saddest Landscape, Diamond Youth, You Blew It!) to the more commercially accessible Hopeless Records (The Wonder Years, All Time Low, Taking Back Sunday) and the music hasn’t necessarily suffered, it just lacks some of the spark; the claustrophobic yet calming nature of The Earth Pushed Back which made you feel like you were drowning and flying at the same time.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that Have Mercy’s music is no longer exceptional. It still is, and the musical step-up which is present here only cements the bands position as one of the best in their genre, because listening to A Place Of Our Own is a treat, a grounded but soaring release; an anthemic, emotional rollercoaster – and very few bands craft their songs this well. Since their first EP back in 2012 Have Mercy have always delivered larger than life songs, dynamic and spirited, charged with an honest intensity, and that’s still the case here pleasingly. First track To Convey takes it’s time, opening minimally as vocalist Brian Swindle sings ‘I remember your hands at my throat / A sweet reminder how you’ll never let go’ before the records first peak, a crescendo as layered, shouted vocals overlap a sweeping backing. It’s a short but solid opener, and from here on things only go from strength to strength as the band consistently excel. Be it on the powerful chorus of following track Two Years (‘I had a life and I had friends / And I miss all of them’) or the humbling open letter of Plastic Covered Furniture (‘You put me on the back-burner / I will be there ’til you need me in your life / Like plastic covered furniture’) A Place Of Our Own is absolutely electric, rich and warm, full of life and its highs and lows. Single Spacecrafts is packed with both, irresistibly memorable – it’s been lodged in my head for weeks – taking it’s time and rising to a huge chorus, showcasing everything about Have Mercy that I’ve grown to cherish, with Swindle’s delivery roaring for the line ‘We’ve got a good thing / It’s a good thing when you’re with me’ in a way which suggests he feels every word, a common spell on A Place Of Our Own.
The band’s newer, more refined sound is best shown on second single Howl, an upbeat and buoyant track which still has an emotional intensity, opening with the line ‘You were young when your father died’. It strikes a fair balance, infectious and radio-friendly with some real food for thought lyrically as Swindle goes on to reflect on a person’s growth in said fathers absence, being alone without truly being alone. It’s touching, the kind of track which elicits smiles whilst weighing on the heart, much like acoustic ninth track Inch By Inch, which makes a mark in a different way but does so just as effectively, working its way under your skin and rooting itself there with the aid of pianos and a striking intimacy. These two tracks are notably lighter in style, but A Place Of Our Own is a drought away from ‘watered down’, and it ends with arguably the darkest track the band have released in Lean, a stomping, Citizen-esque epic of a finale, huge once it kicks in, snarling instrumentally as Swindle yells ‘I’ll be the shoulder if you need to lean.’ The song, and record, ends with one final burst of drums from latest addition Todd Wallace and then that’s it, curtains close, and the urge to press repeat is great, and I tend to press it, because the record is an experience which seems to deliver with each listen, textured and highly emotive. I’ve listened to nothing else in the week or so preceding this review, and I still find myself thoroughly absorbed once I’ve hit play. Few releases this year have commanded my attention this well, and that’s what I love about Have Mercy; I can always take something from their music, it speaks to me and sucks me in. It’s partly because I admire and relate to the expression there a great deal, but partly also because I appreciate brilliant music played by artists who give a damn about their art. A Place Of Our Own wouldn’t matter anywhere near as much as it does if these guys didn’t. It’s worth mentioning that it matters a lot.
On that rather positive note I’ll come to the only negative point I could draw, and it isn’t much of a negative. I’ll admit, rather selfishly, that I was slightly disappointed to see Pete Rose And Babe Ruth and Pawn Takes Rook return, both of which featured on a split with Daisyhead earlier in the year, but given that both songs are excellent it’s a very small niggle. The former remains the best song the band have put out (very closely followed by / tied with Let’s Talk About Your Hair), a powerhouse of emotion, whilst the latter is another of the records finer moments, with a towering chorus bursting into life after a patient build-up. Fourth track The Place That You Love is perhaps the weakest on the record, but it’s still very good, featuring Ace Enders of The Early November during the bridge. It’s saying something that Have Mercy at their ‘worst’ (used very loosely) can still move me, and the lyrical, storytelling content of this song hits particularly hard.
Very few artists, if any, make me feel the way Have Mercy do about music using music. I went into A Place Of Our Own expecting it to be my AOTY, and it comes pretty damn close, keeping the majority of what made The Earth Pushed Back my 2013 AOTY and tightening things up slightly, losing some of the enflamed vulnerability and replacing it with astute confidence – less grit, more grace. It’s both a progression and a regression, with an emphasis on the former, and there’s no reason why this record shouldn’t propel Have Mercy to the heights they deserve to be reaching, because, frankly, nobody really does it better.
Rating – 9/10
Listen to: Two Years / Pete Rose And Babe Ruth / Nails And Teeth In Pavement / The Earth Pushed Back (just because)
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