Analogue Music | Judah & The Lion - Pep Talks
Pep Talks

Pep Talks

Artist: Judah & The Lion · Written by Matt Conner

Date Released

3 May, 2019


Cletus the Van/Caroline

For just over two minutes, Judah & The Lion sounds like their normal selves.

With the titular opener, "Pep Talk," Judah Akers and his bandmates—Brian Macdonald and Nate Zuercher—launch their third longplayer in a manner congruent with their upbeat and affirming pop fusion (not to mention their energetic live shows). It's a slow-building instrumental and crowd chant akin to the album's sporting cover that sounds like it's pulsating toward another cheerleader of a release.

Then comes the thesis: "Would you come help me through?"

Akers needs only a few measures to introduce Pep Talks. "This whole record might be a quarter life crisis," he sings on "Quarter Life Crisis." The music is buoyant, a vibrant melody that conjured Mumford and Needtobreathe comps, but Akers' lyrical confessions bely the accompanying music. Given his current state, the protagonist (Akers) is pleading for help.

"Would you come help me through?" Akers sings.

In some ways, Pep Talk is documentation of a now-veteran songwriter arriving at a more world-weary perspective.

If that sounds like a downer, it is and it isn't. It's real. It's authentic. Akers bares his heart on Pep Talks. "You were the one I needed the most," he sings to an absent-at-the-time father on "Why Did You Run". Kacey Musgraves joins in the misery on "pictures" to harmonize along with Akers on the couplet, "Just another sad song of a love gone wrong / I hate that I'm taking our pictures off the walls."

The sentiments and stories on Pep Talks are not exclusive to Akers, and therein lies the point. When these experiences are shared, they lose their power over us. Instead, the listener is empowered to deal with the feelings and emotions and trauma. There's nothing so powerful as the knowledge that others have endured (or are enduring) the same thing.

It's in this way that Judah & The Lion's central question—Would you come help me through?—also becomes their operating principle. Lyrically, Akers is asking for help as he writes these songs, but he and his bandmates are also keenly aware that their (rabid) fans are asking for assistance in the same way. This release is their way of "coming to help them through.

While the subject matter is, indeed, morose, the music never, ever sinks to anything resembling a sad state of affairs. Pep Talks remains infused with an uncanny energy for its subject matter from beginning to end. A song titled "Over My Head" sounds like a Fun. outtake ready for the pop charts. The melody and delivery of "Why Did You Run" would be at home on any Mat Kearney recording. "Dance With Ya" will have audiences jumping up and down even as Akers sings:

I know the world is turnin', maybe for the worst
Humans and our feelings wrote a fatal curse
That's our harsh reality we can't reverse
You know that I'm not passive and we'll get to it I
'm just at a point where I'm over this
Can we please not do this tonight

There's a chance that, despite their efforts to the contrary, listeners to Pep Talks won't ask or answer the question. The pop constructs are so good here that it's possible to remain in a superficial relationship with these songs, to bounce along to them at work or home or school. But for those with an ear to hear, Judah & The Lion have served up a subversively honest set of songs that hold the power of shared sentiments and stories. And that is the real power of their Pep Talks.