Three years ago, the soaring jubilance of the local band Ages and Ages' debut, Alright You Restless, scored the song "No Nostalgia" placement on Obama’s campaign playlist in 2012 (earning comparisons to the Boss, another campaign staple for Mr. President). Now, after three years and a much lengthier recording process, the band is back with the more tightly focused and intricately arranged, Divisionary (due out March 25)—an album that exudes Alright's optimism despite its roots in tragedy.
That infectious positivity, paired with big choral-style group vocals and the band’s rootsy rhythmic and harmonic backbone, attracts labels like “secular gospel.” It’s a musical aesthetic that frontman Tim Perry gleaned from his upbringing. “There are certain notes, certain harmonies, that when sung by a group of people can literally shake the rafters," he says. "But those rafters can be anywhere and in any kind of building. Growing up, I happened to experience this for the first time as a kid in church.”
Church singing isn’t the only experience from Perry’s childhood that seems to have left its stamp on Divisionary. He struggled with a speech impediment as a young child that made communication with the world around him nearly impossible. “I couldn't make words all that well, at least not in a way that anyone ever really understood, except for my sister,” says Perry. “She was sort of my interpreter. I remember thinking that my language made total sense, but aside from Katie, others didn't agree.” Perry channeled this frustration into successful speech therapy, despite a therapist who thought he might never speak normally.
While he no longer has trouble with verbal communication, the circumstances in which many of the songs on Divisionary came about offer an intriguing parallel with Perry’s childhood struggles: he wrote much of the album during a 10-day, silent meditation retreat. “There was no communicating out there—no phones or computers or books or pens or paper—so there was no chance to flesh any ideas out with an instrument, or even my own voice,” he recalls. “I had to sing [the songs] over and over inside my brain so that I wouldn't forget them.”
Perry is clearly no stranger to being verbally separated from the outside world. It’s hard not to hear him exploring themes of hope and perseverance in isolation throughout Divisionary—even the portmanteau of an album title, a combination of “division” and “visionary,” embodies the idea. “It's a word we invented to describe the process of struggle and conflict that comes with following one's own path or vision,” Perry says. He’s also sure to make clear that it’s “somewhat self-referential,” given the lengthy process of recording the group’s sophomore effort. “Seeing an artistic vision through to the end usually comes with a bit of conflict, in my experience.”
Ages and Ages Record Release Show
Ages and Ages’ new music video for the album’s title track (which you can catch below) is a beautifully shot summation of these themes. Directed by Rodrigo Malgarejo, the video portrays a group of kids who take things a bit too far when enacting their revenge on bike-stealing local bullies (there are urine-filled water guns and what appear to be water balloons filled with some slimy off-colored substance. Rotten milk? Eggs?).
It’s a hilariously Lord of the Flies-esque take on how power corrupts good intentions, and while the moral isn’t exactly subtle—the whole thing is in slow motion and the teen bully ends up waving a white flag of surrender—it isn’t trying to be, either. “We wanted to show both sides of that division; those who become part of the cycle and those who don't,” Perry says. “Of course, we all cheer the little kids on at first. Doing what's 'right' can get blurry and complicated and end up leading people in different directions.”
Three years would have been plenty of time for Perry’s vision to get blurry and complicated, but it’s no fractured second record that Ages and Ages have produced. Perseverance seems to be the singer’s mantra, and Divisionary is as clear-eyed and unified a statement as one could hope for.