Of Empathy And Exhaustion

by | Apr 25, 2022 | MUSIC

On the debut album from Ages, Must Be Nice, the Richmond post-hardcore quartet leads with accessible melodic song structure. But those melodies can’t hide the layer of sarcasm, frustration, and, ultimately, weariness that underpins the entire album.

If you’ve been paying attention to the indie rock underground here in Richmond anytime in the past 15 years or so, you’re sure to have encountered Adrienne Shurte’s music. She’s helmed several bands that achieved different levels of buzz here in the River City, including Hail Hydra, Fire Bison, and Magnus Lush. Her latest quartet, Ages, appears to take its name from her nickname, Age, and the first initial of her last name, and that might make it easy for those who’ve seen Shurte’s backing bands come and go over the years to see her latest incarnation as more of a glorified solo project.

However, on Must Be Nice, the debut release from Ages, it’s very difficult to make that case. Ages, the band, is rounded out by guitarist Christian Monroe, who previously played drums in Shurte’s last band, Magnus Lush; bassist Tristan Brennis, best known around Richmond as the sax player for jazz-metal fusion quartet Dumb Waiter; and drummer Tim Falen, who has kept the beat for a ton of different Richmond bands, from psychedelic space travelers The Diamond Center to speedy hardcore combo Ultra Flake.

So yeah, far from merely showcasing Adrienne Shurte and an anonymous backing band, Must Be Nice features a bit of an all-star cast. Those talents make their presence known on these tunes, too. The contrasting guitar lines in “Australia” show how well Monroe and Shurte work together, while Falen’s intricate, textured drum parts are a core building block of the entire release. Brennis, meanwhile, makes clear that just because bass isn’t his usual instrument doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his way around the four-string beast.

But of course, I’m burying the lede here, because the main reason to show up for this Ages album, just as it has always been for any of Shurte’s previous projects, continues to be the strong songwriting and powerful vocal performance she offers throughout this album. While some musicians who move from band to band over the course of their career reveal different sides of their musical personality with each new project, Shurte covers the same territory here that she’s occupied in previous projects. Post-hardcore songwriting that mingles up-front melodies with intense structural underpinnings, dynamic songwriting that often builds toward powerful crescendos, and always the piercing, emotionally-centered lyrics that are Shurte’s stock in trade, especially paired with her riveting vocal performance.

Must Be Nice might be the most understated release in the Adrienne Shurte oeuvre thus far; it generally forsakes heavy musical apexes for the sort of steadily building slow burn that can’t help keep listeners on the edge of their seat, even as Shurte sings lengthy passages in her most delicate, almost whispery vocal timbre. It’s at moments like these that the rhythm section truly shines on this album. A great example is the penultimate track, “Sidewalk Rooftop;” even as Shurte keeps a tight lid on her voice, even as she and Monroe’s alternating arpeggiated guitar lines avoid any form of overdriven crunch, Brennis and Falen steadily escalate the intensity of their rhythmic backing, achieving crescendos that feel powerful even as the guitar and vocal lines layered over them betray no hint that they’re actually happening.

This, if anything, is the theme of this album. A sarcastic sneer oozes from the title, one that’s impossible to take at face value. Lyrically, these songs focus on interpersonal struggles, and the difficulties one faces when balancing the needs of others with one’s own needs. Nobody wants to feel like an asshole, but it’s difficult to continually privilege the feelings of others when they don’t ever seem to take yours into account. That’s the feeling captured lyrically throughout this release.

Closer “No Money” is particularly noteworthy in terms of the emotional content here. With Shurte’s vocal and acoustic guitar joined only by quiet backing from a string quartet, the edge of bitterness present throughout the previous six songs is allowed to fall away, replaced by a lovelorn weariness that’s all too familiar for any listener who has ever had their own struggles with the push and pull of love. “I just want to be with you when the day is done,” Shurte sings at the end of the song — and, for that matter, the album — and while it may not be a happy emotion to leave you with, it is a familiar one. And in that familiarity, a listener can hopefully find some comfort.

Must Be Nice is out now from Ossein Records. It’s available on cassette or digital download from this link.

Photos via Ages/Facebook

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

more in music

An Ode to Oderus Urungus, Our Scum Dog Overlord!

Once upon a time, in Richmond, Virginia, there stood a statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue for 133 years. However, in the wake of the summer of 2020 protests and growing social awareness, the State Supreme Court approved the removal of the statue. Governor...

The Butcher Brown & The Richmond Symphony Put On A Show

Butcher Brown, the progressive jazz masters from Richmond, played a special show in partnership with the Richmond Symphony over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The show featured 10 of their tunes arranged by Richmond’s own Trey Pollard and Tim Barrons which they...

A Man Named Earl, A Punk Named Yonder

Richmond based punk artist Yonder opens up about his art and music career, and the role that mental health plays in it. He discusses how his "outsider" attitude and vulnerability in his work is rooted in his experiences growing up as the "black sheep" of his family...

RVA Shows You Must See This Week: January 11 – January 17

FEATURED SHOW Saturday, January 14, 7 PM Last Minute Fest II, feat. The Mitras, Mad Abbey, Pipesleeve, Overunderdog, Sifter, Stevie Ashe @ The Camel - $10 in advance, $12 day of show (Order tickets HERE) It's officially a new year, but I always take a little while to...

Richmond Music 2022, Part II: Indie (Second Half)

OK, I should have known that this one in particular would go too long -- when I made up these playlists before starting to write this article series, the indie playlist was the longest one by a significant amount. To put it in perspective, the rather lengthy hip hop...

Pin It on Pinterest