BY CLAIRE LANTHIER //Embed from Getty Images
When I think about my notes-app list of “no-skip” albums I’ve been writing since I first started trying to become an album-all-the-way-through listener, I’ve noticed a common thread between all of the albums listed. Rather than writing down albums I find have the best production value, all of the albums in the list contain a lineup of songs that all have lyricism and emotion that strikes a chord with my experiences of growing up and being a young adult. The album featured today, Tough Love from Montclair, New Jersey based quintet Forth Wanderers is no exception. Each track off of the 8-track album released in 2014 feels like it was written just for me at the time I first fell in love with it: coming off of my first college breakup.
The breakup itself was not too upsetting, but what followed was a period of feeling unbelievably lost facing college alone, and a sort of “shit, I’m an adult and I have to figure this out on my own” realization that led to the classic coping mechanisms of going out every weekend, going for 3-5 mile walks around DC every weekend, and crying on the metro. I have such a distinct memory of listening to the song’s title track, “Tough Love” while walking to the first job interview I got in the city after being rejected from more than 15 (I was subsequently rejected from this job as well lol.) The lines “oh I’m trying, yeah I’m trying” blasting into my ears were comforting to me at this time in my life, and it quickly became my most-played song of that semester.
The theme of the lyricist and lead vocalist (Ava Trilling) longing for a colder heart or a tougher disposition echoes throughout the album and I found this theme very present in my outlook in early 2020 as well. I was told before coming to college that living in the city will turn you colder, that GWU has no community, that it’s a survival-of-the-fittest mentality everywhere you look. Early 2020, during this time of rejection both from my then boyfriend and the 15+ café jobs I applied for, I felt these warnings I had been told coming true in my own life. The first lines of the album, in the song “Selfish,” say “I wanna be known / as the girl who’s stone cold / wears her heart on her sleeve / for everyone to need.” This message floats in and out through the rest of the album, making the entire thing more cohesive with this message of feeling at times like your heart is too big, and like you need to harshen yourself up after dealing with these experiences of rejection. This makes the album a no-skip one to me because although each song takes a different look at this issue, the theme and emotion stay consistent throughout.
The song “Sleeper” deals with the feeling of feeling inadequate as a person, with Ava singing “my heart is way too heavy / take me where i’m not so unsteady / i need oh i need a part of me i can’t seem to reach” to a backdrop of simple yet emotive guitar. This song to me sends a message of the singer feeling a deep sense of inadequacy in her relationship as well as her general life, making it a relatable song to anyone going through a time of transition, rejection, or loss. The song is only two minutes long and only has 10 lines, and yet the song feels deep, complex, and emotive. That’s one of the skills of this band and one of the strengths of this album. The entire thing is only twenty-some minutes long and yet it feels finished, complete, and whole.
This album was one I leaned on heavily during quarantine as well, particularly the first couple months when I was adjusting to being back at home (especially being back at my old job at Target.) The song “Painting of Blue,” which may be my favorite song off the album, deals with these feelings of no longer knowing who you are around people and places, which is a common theme felt among many when they go back home from college for the first time. “Think of me as a painting of blue / I’m just a painting of blue / I’m just a painting to you” is one of the more beautiful lines in this album, and Ava perfectly encapsulates the feeling of just being lost as you grow up. Returning to live in my parents house and work at the job I worked at in high school felt almost surreal, like I was just where I started from but somehow a completely different individual. The last song, “Television” also deals with what I feel to be a common theme of outgrowing those around you, with some teen angst sprinkled in.
This song is the longest on the album, with lyrics telling a story of spite and this dream the singer has of proving herself to be worthy, to be better. She says “I wanna make it big / that’s something you’ll never know” and finishes the song (and the album) with these lines, which I find to be fitting considering how this was the band’s first LP and, in my opinion, their best work. All eight songs on this record flow seamlessly into each other — while it is best listened to from beginning to end it also works well on shuffle. Each song ties into the other, dealing with the themes of anger, teen angst, feeling too soft for the world, rejection, and an overarching lens of growing up. The album is incredible, you should listen to it for yourself.