Having spent much of the last two years in willful isolation, Ages and Ages surface at last with Divisionary, an emotive and emotional song cycle that sees the Portland, Oregon-based collective wrestling with many of the contradictions and confusion that life has to offer. Pervasive acclaim and a fervent fanbase followed 2011s debut, Alright You Restless, but the band soon found themselves confronting what co-founder/frontman Tim Perry refers to as "some dark-ass shit." Ages and Ages tackled those challenges by amping up their multi-layered modus operandi all gang harmonies, rhythmic discovery, and inner conflict the contrast between joyous sound and disheartening subject matter instilling songs such as "No Pressure" and "Our Demons" with striking pragmatism and undeniable muscle. Fraught with heartfelt drama, celebratory spirit, and sonic ingenuity, Divisionary finds Ages and Ages torn and frayed but more optimistic than ever, empowered and transcendent in spite of their turmoil and trials.
"Positivity isn't always easy," says Perry. "Struggle is necessary in order to find true perspective."
Ages and Ages came together in 2009, founded by Perry, Rob Oberdorfer (bass, percussion, vocals), Graham Mackenzie (percussion, vocals), and Daniel Hunt (drums, percussion, vocals), alongside other friends and players from Portlands ever-fertile music community. Alright You Restless arrived two years later and immediately proved a critical favorite. An ardent audience also surfaced, a committed cohort that ironically included President Barack who included (without permission, mind) the albums "No Nostalgia" on his 2012 campaign playlist.
A portmanteau fusing "division" and "visionary," Divisionary illustrates the many experiences that followed Alright You Restless ("We wanted one word to describe how we felt and what we were going through as individuals and as a band," Perry says, "so we made one up.") Imbued by its creators with multiple meanings, Divisionary further represents any grouping whose shared objective leads them to secede, either physically or philosophically, from the larger body. And, as Perry puts it, "It can also be a reference to the individual and whatever inner-conflicts might arise as they struggle with making the right choices in life."
"Alright You Restless was intended to be almost naive in its optimism about a new life in isolation," Perry says. "This one explores the experience a little further down the road, after the shine has worn off and shit has gotten a little more real. Yes, they still believe in the cause. Yes, they still want to embrace all of life's beauties. But things are not as harmonious and easy-going as when they started."
The dissonance is surely understandable, considering the barrage of unfortunate events that befell some of the band members in the period that followed Alright You Restless. That brief span saw the band suffer the loss of a mother, a father, a sister, three grandparents, and two very dear friends, with causes ranging from freak accident to suicide and cancer.
"I can't emphasize enough the impact that these losses were having on our personal lives and of course, on the band as a whole," Perry says. "But there were also a lot of great things happening. One of us had a child and another got married. Life was tipping both ends of the scale, sometimes all at once. Either way you cut it, there was a lot of change going on in our lives."
Having experienced much grief, Perry, the bands principal songwriter, threw himself into a kind of emotional seclusion, even as the universe continued to hum around him. But he pushed through, his coming to grips with all that had occurred fueling the reflective lyrical foundation of Divisionary.
Despite the seismic shifts, Ages and Ages held fast to their greater goal. With anywhere from six to nine members at any given time, the band spent much of 2012 working at Portlands Jackpot Studios with veteran Pacific Northwest producer Tony Lash (Elliott Smith, The Dandy Warhols, Eric Matthews) as well as at Oberdorfers own home setup.
"An incredible amount of effort was put into keeping this record raw," Oberdorfer says. "The point was that this is the sound of the band laying their guts on the table. It couldn't sound processed or overwrought. We really wanted the listener to be in the room full of people singing and playing."
Mission accomplished even with its snug harmonies and intricate instrumental interplay, Divisionary feels carefully crafted but never constrained, its sumptuous arrangements seeming both remarkably involved yet naturalistic, invigorating, and free.
"The boundaries are different for every song," Perry says. "Freedom and spontaneity versus the craft. For us, were always trying find the perfect zone in between the two. Its an ongoing thing. We try to be loose."
Divisionary's power is born of the clash between the bands stirring folkadelic sonics and the often-traumatic subject matter. Songs like "Calamity Is Overrated" and "Over It" foil lonely lyricism against vivacious melody "as if the internal conflict is happening in real time," according to Perry.
"While everyone might seek to do the right thing, we don't all share the same vision of what that is," Perry says. "Thus our paths aren't always aligned. Youve got to follow your own. But doing so means you might lose some people along the way. Divisionary."
The myriad members of Ages and Ages are now ready to bring Divisionary to their extended fan family, the bands ecstatic live approach the ideal vehicle for these powerful, populist songs. Ages and Ages have emerged from their crucible somewhat scarred but wiser, stronger, and more united than ever.
"Ultimately I think we all feel hopeful and blessed," Perry says, "and overall these songs reflect that sense of optimism. But they dont do so lightly and they certainly don't try and dodge the struggles that we were dealing with individually and as a band. It was an exceptionally long, hard road this time around but in the end, were all really proud and excited to share this record."