Anyone who has experienced or witnessed any sort of mental ailment can attest to the ages-old mantra, “progress isn’t linear.”
And it’s true. Healing is not a destination, but a journey full of setbacks and bumps in the road. Boston indie-folk duo Old Tom and The Lookouts flawlessly execute this message with their profound new record, Just for Beasts.
The inspiration for the record comes from the band’s desire to create a piece of art that fostered much-needed conversations surrounding mental health. Lyricist and vocalist Alex Calabrese and violinist Cecilia Vacanti work together to create a lush, yet minimalist tone similar to Phoebe Bridgers, Tom Waits, and Roseanne Baker Thornley.
Just for Beasts opens with “Flat Leaver,” a free-spirited folksy track with a gorgeous violin line that establishes the vibe of the entire album. An almost Mumford & Sons vocal line by Calabrese wistfully sings out, “I heard it gets better over time.” Driving percussive beats along with Vacanti’s soaring strings makes for a beautifully tragic song that screams out perseverance despite hardship.
“Hey Edna,” the record’s leading single, is all about sticking by someone through their struggles no matter how hard it is for either of you. The song’s chorus is a gorgeous array of horns, strings, and a vocal descant. Although falling under the indie-folk umbrella, the track’s backing vocals have just a tinge of a pop-punk influence, adding to the raw emotion displayed throughout the entire tracklist.
The album’s second single is “Alive,” a testament to how hard it can be to push through your despair. “I found myself enough for this though it’s hard to prove that I exist,” are some of the song’s most encouraging lyrics, as it’s a call to action to keep on keeping on.
Just for Beast’s penultimate track is “Love in a Hospital,” which is on the softer end of the tracklist. With just a tiny taste of a traditional country sound, this song, like the rest of the album, is a plea to not give up.
The album closes with “Graveyard vs. Hot Air Balloon,” which has a totally unique sound individual to the rest of the record. It’s bass-heavy and has some moments of being in a minor key, yet maintains the duo’s signature string-and-horn sound. As the song ends, Just for Beasts is punctuated by the diminuindo sound of fading strings, a beautiful way to end the listener’s experience.
The record, and the band as a whole, are centered around finding a sense of community and self-worth within the struggles of mental health that most of us know all too well. Old Tom and The Lookouts actively associate themselves with and support nonprofit organizations such as To Write Love on Her Arms and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Just for Beasts is one of those essential records that everyone should give a spin. Not only because it’s a great sound, but because of the message that Old Tom and The Lookouts share. It’s valuable and needs to be heard.