the truth will waver and
time will fade like sugar on your tongue
At first blush, Love & Summer, the third full-length album from Chicago-based singer/songwriter, Kevin Andrew Prchal, is a rollicking celebration of its two titular themes. Radiating romance and whimsy, the album revels in the never-ending present of love; its songs ecstatic and tender, playful and impassioned. Early on, Love & Summer stakes out its territory—a green and blossoming world which Prchal explores with breathless wonder and delight. Musically and lyrically, its mood is pastoral: fiddles and pedal steel mingle with the recurring voices of cicadas, and Prchal draws on a register of natural images to populate its landscape. Yet even while Love & Summer presents an homage to this idealized world, the album is also—perhaps more so—a paean to an evanescent present, where, as Prchal sings, “time will fade like sugar on your tongue.” In this sense, the insistent optimism of Love & Summer is motivated less by the dizzy raptures of love than by a hard-won awareness of the fleetingness of things and a determination to remain focused on the here-and-now of real human connection.
Love & Summer thus marks a triumphant escape from the world of Prchal’s last album, Sorrow Sings (2014). Written at the nadir of a period of anxiety and depression, Sorrow Sings documented Prchal’s struggle to emerge from a welter of confusions and conflicts, yet its title track—a tremulously gorgeous string arrangement that ends the album—concludes with an audio clip of chirping birds Prchal recorded just minutes before proposing to his wife. The clip serves as a segue to the mood of exaltation that suffuses Love & Summer. Throughout the album, such vestiges of sadness and confusion remain, but time and again Prchal resolutely turns away from sorrow to revel in the sweetness of life instead.
The deftness of Prchal’s lyrical craftsmanship is on display throughout Love & Summer. Not only does Prchal succeed in deploying a collection of deep, often elemental tropes with great subtlety, but he enacts his own complicated relationship to past and future, misery and joy, at the level of the line. In the opening track “Make Me A Believer,” for example, Prchal sings:
I woke up and saw the day like a puddle sees the rain / Crawling up and out a long and lonesome well / But I looked up and saw your face; a roaring river through my faith / Where we’re headed, honey, time will only tell.
Recorded over the span of three days at IV Lab Studios in Chicago, Love & Summer hints at a range of musical influences, all in conversation to create a sound both familiar and new. Listening closely, you might pick up traces of American classics like Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, The Dead’s American Beauty, or more modern staples like Wilco’s Being There or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' Soul Journey. Like such albums, Love & Summer tends to merge traditional song structures with a wide variety of instrumentation provided by his backing band The Wheeling Birds. Yet beyond novel instrumentation, beautiful arrangements, and keen production by Prchal’s long-time friend and fellow Chicagoland musician, Adam Krier, it is Prchal’s voice that provides the backbone of Love & Summer. Steady, richly resonant, and clear of any affectation, Prchal intones his songs with a sincerity, straight-forwardness, and sweetness that is uniquely his own.
On only one track does Prchal’s voice not appear. “Luke & the Universe,” a minute-long, two-chord swirl of heavily textured and looping melodies, occurs at the very heart of Love & Summer. The song, named for and dedicated to a close friend of Prchal’s who died unexpectedly in 2015, is like a spinning black hole of heartbreak at the center of the album, around which its other songs orbit in ever-shifting and fragile constellations of beauty and order. Impossibly brief and incandescently beautiful, like the life it celebrates, “Luke & the Universe” presents the album’s deepest, almost Zen-like moment.
In the end, what unifies Love & Summer is the uniquely bold, life-affirming posture it takes toward its subject matter. The album is built around the core insight that rather than bemoaning the passing of time, we ought instead see in its passage the very condition of beauty. Impermanence, ephemerality, the seasonality of things—these are not causes for sorrow but rather the sources of life’s sweetness. The songs of Love & Summer are animated by this realization, and the album’s final triumph is to persuade its listeners that, as Prchal puts it, “time will fade like sugar on your tongue.”