A Fragile Tomorrow
w/ Finnegan Bell and Nancy Druid
Sat. Feb. 23
Queen Street Playhouse
20 Queen St.
Generation Loss, the new album by Charleston’s A Fragile Tomorrow, is going to be something of a curveball for longtime fans. There are still elements of the relatively straightforward guitar-heavy power pop they did so well on albums like Make Me Over and Be Nice Be Careful; the vocal harmonies still sparkle, and the amps are still cranked, but Generation Loss is not power-pop.
It’s closer to synth-spiked progressive rock, but even that’s not an accurate description. That implies a sort of pompousness or self-seriousness that Generation Loss doesn’t have. The 11 tracks on the album have some complex time signatures, but the keyboards are closer to ’80s pop than ’70s pomp. And the band has a far better groove than the older prog bands ever had, largely thanks to new drummer Josh Kean. Call it prog-pop, maybe, with a dash of hip-hop beats.
Regardless of the labels, it’s still a far different version of A Fragile Tomorrow, a shift that singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter Sean Kelly says was entirely intentional.
“After the last record we kind of went away a bit and did solo records,” he says, “and I think that when it came time to start thinking about the band again, being the primary songwriter, I wasn’t sure where to go from the last record, and I realized that I wanted to do something new. Our musical tastes were evolving, and we were listening to a lot of hip-hop and Krautrock and more progressive kind of stuff. So it felt like if we’re going to do something again, it had to be something different.”
Sean had worked with his guitarist brother Brendan on a solo album called Time Bomb, Baby, in 2017 and, in a sense, that’s where the next chapter of A Fragile Tomorrow began. The Kellys began experimenting with different sounds and more complex song structures, not to mention a somewhat unorthodox approach to their guitars.
“I didn’t want the guitars to sound like guitars,” Sean says. “That was something I settled on really early on. Brendan was using all of these different kinds of effects and his pedal board, and he was using the effects as his sound. Some of the songs on Generation Loss were written around those effects.”
At around the same time, Sean’s twin brother Dominic was moving from behind the drumkit, where his style was raw and propulsive, to keyboards, where he took a more atmospheric approach that dovetailed nicely with the non-guitar guitars.
“I think at that point we were really heavy into the demo phase for Generation Loss,” Sean says, “and the stuff was already very synth-y, or sounded like it could be, so we started thinking about what would happen if we were doing more synthesizers. Dom was playing more keyboards in his solo stuff, and it just kind of made sense from many different angles to breathe some new life into the band. When Dom moved to keyboards it helped to move the music an entirely different direction.”
With a new drummer backing the band and Dominic providing new sonic textures on keyboards, the shift in A Fragile Tomorrow’s sound became even more dramatic.
“Josh is a very different drummer than Dom,” Sean says, “and so it made us more focused on rhythmic elements and basslines. Since we’re not utilizing the guitars the same way, we’re more drum and bass-focused, so it kind of changed everything, really, for the better, because it made us focus on leaving space and being more rhythmic. Josh is like a human metronome; he’s so in the pocket that it’s kind of crazy, and our shows have such a different energy now.”
As exciting as all of this experimentation has been for the band, it’s also a pretty significant risk. A Fragile Tomorrow garnered a lot of fans and a lot of praise for their work before Generation Loss. It enabled them to tour with acts like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Matthew Sweet, and Indigo Girls, among others. It won the band an Independent Music Award for a duet with Joan Baez, for God’s sake. So how can they leave that sound, and potentially some of their fanbase, behind?
Well, first of all, as much as he talks about evolution, Sean says some of the band’s fundamentals are still present.
“At the end of the day there are elements in there of what we’ve always done,” he says. “The harmonies, for example, will feel familiar.”
And as for the new stuff going on around those harmonies, Sean says he’s expecting, and even welcoming, a bit of shock.
“I would say that I’m prepared for people to be caught off guard,” he says. “I definitely want people to listen to it and think, ‘That’s different than what I expected.’ That’s a good thing. I would be thrilled if people said, ‘Wow, this is different,’ and even if it’s not their thing, if people can notice the evolution of it, I think that means a whole lot more. But so far, people have really loved the change. It makes me feel good as a writer that I can take risks, that the band can take risks and that people will be responsive to it.”