On Friday, Columbia’s The Restoration releases its long-awaited sophomore LP. The band’s first full-length arrived in 2010.
For most groups, such a gap would indicate an extended hiatus, or at least a downturn in activity or public visibility. But The Restoration, which remains one of the most popular originals-focused acts in town, has never been typical
Constance, The Restoration’s 2010 LP, is a concept album that chronicles an interracial love affair in a fictionalized version of Lexington, and the conflict and violence it sets into motion, from the late-1800s through the 1930s. The 2012 EP Honor the Father returns to the same Faulkner-ish setting, chasing themes of religious zealotry, which inspires more tragic violence, while advancing in time to 1937-63, and pushing the music from Gothic filigree and revved-up ragtime into a mixture of graceful folk and early rock ‘n’ roll.
The Restoration’s last release was the non-narrative New South Blues EP in 2013, but the band remained in the spotlight. Constance was added to the literature and history curriculum at Spartanburg Methodist College, and proceeded through 2014 workshop performances on its way to becoming a full-on musical at Columbia’s Trustus Theatre in 2018. The group collaborated with director Christopher Tevebaugh on a 2014 short film fleshing out three songs from Honor the Father.
Various solo and side projects percolated, as well, punctuated at regular intervals by Restoration live gigs.
West, The Restoration’s excellent new album, shows the benefit of this experience.
“We’ve all been kind of growing musically, in different ways, since then,” offers keyboard player Sharon Gnanashekar. “By the time we got to this, all those things that we’d learned had somehow morphed into new influences. It’s not really, per se, our natural tendencies, but if you’re trying to go for a certain type of sound, then your influences from the last seven years, since 2010, they definitely play a part.”
The album — which spins another emotionally wrenching tale, this time drawn from songwriter Daniel Machado’s family history — proceeds with a casual and professional confidence about what The Restoration is, comfortably pushing the group’s distinct oscillations between bounding catharses and hushed, barebones confessions into unexplored territory.
Sliced through by caustic electric piano, “I’ll Never Leave You” swings with the wild-eyed angst of Jack White’s first two solo records. “Prepubescent Homeless Blues,” with its ironically mutated E Street magnetism, and “Should I Feel Guilty,” with its purposefully twilit slow build, resemble two of Arcade Fire’s divergent moods, while the huge, heartbreaking and ornate “I’ve Got So Much to Give” envisions a Southern-bred, gospel-inflected National.
The trick that allows these stylistic wanderings to remain cohesive — and to remain The Restoration — is that the base tracks were recorded live with minimal instrumentation, with richly crafted overdubs added later.
“Basically, I and various members of the band had come up with a process where you practice live, you record live, but you can also really put that polish ... on top of it,” Machado explains. “It was really exciting to come back with a set of songs for this band and say, ‘OK, what’s the best of all the processes we worked on over the projects we’ve been doing?’”
This compromise between engrossing sounds and aching vulnerability proves essential in supporting Machado’s new songs. The fictionalized album chronicles what his uncle termed a history of “creative abandonment” on the part of Daniel’s grandparents, which found the songwriter’s father and brother spending much of their childhood separated from them.
The title track describes a road trip from South Carolina to the Southwest that Daniel’s granddad took his sons on; he only brought two bags. “Prepubescent Homeless Blues” finds Daniel’s father describing a painful few years bouncing between divorced parents and military school (“You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve been pissed on / By a lieutenant don’t know his ABCs”).
But Machado treats his grandparents — the passion of their initial romance, the strain of their relationship with each other and their sons — with equal compassion. Weighing his own commitment to art against having kids of his own, Machado began to understand how societal pressures landed his grandparents with a family they may not have chosen on their own.
“I’m honestly having a pretty awkward conversation through the record between my dad and I,” Machado admits. “Because these people pretty much traumatized him, and I hit a certain age, and found myself sort of identifying with them more than I did with him.”
West is the end of an era for The Restoration. Bassist Adam Corbett, the band’s other songwriter, will depart after this week’s release party to focus on his own musical efforts. But he and his mates are happy with what they’ve accomplished, and what the project has given them — including a particularly nice trip to the State Fair to film the new album’s first music video.
“It’s probably the most kush treatment anybody in the band has gotten for being in the band,” Corbett recalls. “The fair assigned us a liason, who was basically mayor of fair. Scooter. I do not know Scooter’s last name. Scooter was great. Took us to the front of the line, said, ‘We’re filming,’ put us on the ride, took us off the ride, waved us onto the next thing.
“He shut the bumper cars down for me. I had the entire bumper car ride to myself.”
What: The Restoration
Where: Curiosity Coffee Bar, 2327 Main St.
When: Friday, Oct. 4, 6-11 p.m.
Price: Sold out
More: 803-357-2889, curiositycoffeebar.com
West is out Oct. 4 on vinyl, and digitally on Oct. 25.