One of my favorite things as a music fan is to hear a new record by a musician that I’m a big fan of. There’s something about expectations, hope, and excitement that makes the first time you click play feel so important. It’s rare, in today’s constantly connected world, that we get to feel a genuine sense of watching and seeing someone grow. When that happens, as it has with Into Place, the newest album from JD Eicher and The Goodnights, it’s like meeting an old friend and seeing that they’ve become exactly what you hoped they would.
From the first track to the last, Into Place, which Eicher calls “a sort of ‘coming of age’ for me and the band – the result of working at it for a long time,” is a solid entry into this year’s album of the year competition, an album that shows growth, versatility, a sense of humor, humility, and confidence all in 12 beautifully and meticulously crafted songs. Into Place manages to sound every bit as professional and radio ready as any major label release and the quality of production serves to crystallize and amplify the quality of the music and song-writing.
This album shows the band’s versatility with a wide range of styles from pure pop (“I’d Like To Get To Know You”) to blues rock (“Lately Lady”) to lyric driven ballads (“Edgar Greene’s Time Machine”). But what strikes me on this album is the sense that this band excels at two distinctly different kinds of music. One is fun, upbeat, positive music and the other is introspective, thought-provoking, mellow music.
Eicher has made his name with his singer-songwriter style, but “Give It Up” almost immediately shows that his talents aren’t limited to the acoustic guitar. The riff in the song is as catchy as they get and the positivity is contagious. “I won’t hold myself to any more than this” seems almost like a mantra for Eicher and the guys. “You’ve Got a Lot Growing Up To Do” is fun, sometimes silly, song about the little things that bother us in everyday life, including, but not limited to, Fox News, street corner preachers, commercial writers, and Congress. “I’d Like to Get to Know You” is the first single off the album and it’s the kind of pop music I wish I could find on the radio, whistling and all. It’s a pretty simple idea, saying to someone “I’d like to get to know you”, but it’s something that’s often overlooked. Lastly, in the pop category, there’s “Aaron”, a song that shows off Eicher’s songcrafting skills. This song is an amazing portrait of a person who claims that “I don’t write sad songs, they just seem to write me.”
In the more familiar territory of the singer-songwriter, Into Place shows Eicher’s continued growth as a songwriter and the importance of Ben Portz (keyboards), Dylan Kollat (percussion), and Jim Merhaut (bass) in filling out the band’s sound. Having heard Eicher play solo many times, I can safely say that the full band sound does wonderful things for these songs. Songs like “Lately Lady”, a rock song with strong blues influences, seems impossible without the band to fill out the sound. “People” is an interesting take on the day to day influence other people have on us, positively and negatively. The first chorus, “They take all that and more and only ever let you down,” is consistently and beautifully juxtaposed against the second chorus, “They become the only reason you care to stick around.”
Into Place also has two of the most complete songs in the band’s catalog in “The Last Love Song” and the title track, “Into Place”. The former is a love song on the surface, but it feels a lot more meaningful. It’s a song that’s more than an expression of love, it’s a confession of the kind of love that never goes away. “Because now I spend my time not knowing why, not wanting to,/ Found in maze that starts and ends with you.” The genius of “Into Place” is two fold. First, it’s a introspection, the realization of growth by someone that’s been waiting for that. The lines “first, you’re broken. Then you’re free” and “because I am who I am and I finally know what I know” are beautiful examples of this introspection.
But perhaps the most amazing thing about this album and song is that it’s the last track of a trilogy and it ties a perfect, succinct, and awe-inspiring bow on the career of Eicher up to this point. The song itself contains, in its lyrics, the titles of at least 5 different JD Eicher and the Goodnights’ songs. “Into Place,” intentionally designed to culminate the three albums released so far, includes what, for my money, is the best line of the year: “We are the shape of things shifting into place.” While impressive on it’s own, the line becomes so much more powerful in the context of the album and when thinking about the career of Eicher up to this point with albums titled “The Shape of Things”, “Shifting” and “Into Place.” JD Eicher and the Goodnights have produced a gem of a record and, like all the best groups, continue to get better and better.