On their latest aptly titled album Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Nighttime, California indie rock quarter Family of the Year showcase their mastery of folk style harmonies and a growing maturity in their lyrics, though the increased wistfulness of their tunes does grow heavy over the course of the album.
Opener “Let Her Go” is a melodic masterpiece that sets the tone for the album, as lead singer Joseph Keefe finds the strength to part with his lover over crescendoing drums, acoustic guitars and backing harmonies. There’s a similar sadness to later standout “Girl Who Washed Ashore”, as the song’s protagonist reminisces about a lost soul who came into his life, only to escape to California.
Escape is a common theme on the album, as it follows characters looking to get out of their current lives, or dealing with the aftermath of their exits. The somberness can be overwhelming at times, overpowering the prettiest of instrumentation (“Numb”), but for the most part, the band finds a healthy balance between warm folk pop melodies and lyrical tearjerking.
The group owes a huge debt to the Laurel Canyon music of yesteryear, as their songs hitch on similar easy-going vibes, though the group builds on that genre with richer arrangements. Strings and electric guitars on “Bitter Mind” take it to power ballad levels, while the piano on “I’m the One” could have been an Elton John song, if John grew up in the Malibu sun instead of England. There’s even a detour into 70’s psychedelia on “The Coast”, which veers into fuzzed-out acid rock at the end.
What’s missing from the album is the youthful, free-spirited energy of earlier works like “St. Croix” and “The Stairs”. The closest Family comes to that vigor is on single “Hold Me Down”, another escapist song, but one that’s buoyed by shimmering synths and an upbeat group chorus, “I won’t stop running round/ until I found myself in a one-horse town. Sunlit bathed in the Hollywood hills / down a dead-end street where I can’t be found.” There are some breezy Beach Boys-style harmonies layered throughout songs like “Latchkey Kids”, but they are often tempered by somber nostalgia that makes them better listens for summer evenings than summer days.
Hence, Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Nighttime. Family of the Year isn’t making a musical statement – just letting all of us know that during times like this when things aren’t as sunny as they used to be, they are ready to change with the times too. Thankfully most of the songs here are lovely enough to make the sadness within them palatable.