Mike Mains & The Branches returned April 5 with the band’s most intimate record to date, titled When We Were in Love. It’s a personal account of marriage and the rough patches that come with it, and it is made all the more volatile by the fact that Shannon and Mike Mains, two members of the band, fell in love after founding the group and releasing its first album. This only adds to the band’s characteristic pop-rock music; every song on the album is still packed with energy and upbeat, poppy melodies.
Though When We Were in Love was inspired by a marital rough patch between Shannon and Mike Mains, it is clear from the start of the album that their love is the kind that people strive for. The first track, “Pouring Rain,” opens with shimmering synth and strong vocals that pulse with a contagious enthusiasm for love.
Later, on “Live Forever,” Mike sings, “Baby I’ve been paralyzed by fear/But whenever you are near/I feel like I could live forever,” as bright melodies and crisp percussion keep the track sharp. A light ukulele strumming adds a sunny timbre to the track and is the perfect addition to an irresistibly catchy song.
The rest of the record continues in a similar manner with each melody growing more enticing. It truly is well-written pop music, with polished production and intimately vulnerable lyrics familiar to anyone who has been in love. But not everything is quite so sunny–this record was created during a marital rough patch, and the latter half of the record reflects that turmoil.
“Fever” shows this strain as Mike recalls a series of vignettes–first that “You were sailing in your blue dress, lighting up the room,” and later, remembering when he was “Suffocating in the front seat, you’re touching up your lipstick.” It’s bittersweet and reminiscent as Mike shows off his falsetto over a more mellow instrumental track, and there’s an almost physical tension and ache to the music.
To close the record, “Swamp” is a painful contrast to the first tracks on the album. The driving percussion persists, but it is far less upbeat and enthusiastic as Mike laments, “Do you remember when we were in love?” Soft piano and guitar feel soaked in sadness and Mike sounds exhausted. The song closes out on pure instrumental synth, imparting a sense of emptiness.
When We Were in Love is a masterfully-written pop-rock record; it is upbeat and enthusiastic at times and desolate at others, but every single melody is catchy and Mike Mains’s evident passion for the music is topped only by his love for his wife. That vulnerability is precisely what makes this record so irresistible: it’s a story from beginning to end, and the detailed narratives make each track feel surprisingly universal. Check it out below: