Listen up and gather ’round while I tell you why Free Throw‘s new album will be securing one of the top spots on your AOTY list in 2019. So, yes. I’ve been a fan of Free Throw for a minute now, and you can bet your big (or small!) booty (this is a No Judgement Zone, after all) that I jumped at the chance for an early indulgence of Free Throw’s new album, What’s Past is Prologue, due for release March 29, 2019 via Triple Crown Records. Who wouldn’t, right? Those dudes are are doing some cool things (like naming songs after Pokemon cities)!
But let me tell you, this album resonated with me on such a level that I am not entirely sure it was of this world. Each time I gave it another spin, I found some new detail, some tiny nuance, that made this album more impressive and made me just a little bit more obsessed. With massive hooks, deeply relatable lyrics and their oh-so-sassy, twinkly lead guitar, Free Throw has managed to reel me back in once again and get me borderline obsessed…again.
The album opens with a floaty, defeated confessional about starting smoking again (and possibly channeling some Sorority Noise vibes?). Eventually, we are jerked out of this mellow atmosphere as first the music, and shortly after, the vocals swell to a kickass, full-bodied bold crescendo on the track. From here, we can peek into the very heart of the matter at hand: something is wrong, but it seems that the cause for the unhealthy dependency habits is not entirely clear quite yet.
Our journey continues, and we follow along with lead singer and guitarist Cory Castro, as he presents his ongoing struggle with his mental health. He lays everything out in the open, as the next few tracks depict him continuing to participate in unhealthy coping mechanisms until he seems to be slapped awake by the gravity of his situation.
The third track and first single from the album, “The Corner’s Dilemma,” digs deep into this very subject. While on the surface, it may seem that this song is simply an ode to social anxiety, paired with the perfect dance-all-your-bad-feelings-out vibes, but this killer mosh pit-worthy build-up halts unexpectedly and switches over to a dreamy acoustic state that capitalizes on lyrics like “I just want to be…anything but me,” that kick you right in the teeth when you’re least expecting it.
The abrupt changes from the powerful punk overtones paired with bitter lyrics, to the softer, almost angelic atmosphere and despairing lyrics magnificently represents the chaotic inner turmoil one can feel when struggling to maintain their mental health. The song ends with a complete absence of instruments and Castro simply stating, “I think that I’ve wasted my whole life,” to drive home the narrative shift that is taking place. In this moment, Castro is staring face-to-face with his reflection and doesn’t necessarily like what’s staring back at him.
While this was certainly an unsettling realization for him, Castro continues to follow his self-destructive “routines,” becoming more and more reckless until we reach the very heart of the album. In “Anaconda Vice,” we strap in for the ride that becomes the last straw for Castro. He laments at the state of which he has let himself become through neglect and self medication that he abuses as an escape from what’s become of his reality and “racing thoughts. The tempo suddenly slows significantly to brilliantly simulate some form of intoxication and the vocals become more sporadic as they grow into a chant of the lines “I’m spinning out of control.” This scene becomes more and more chaotic and clearly establishes a state of unease that our narrator feels as the track ends with a spooky, otherworldly snippet of confused sounds.
Just as I was feeling that I was about to slip off into a space-themed existential crisis, Free Throw tosses out a life preserver and reels us all right back in with an especially tasty riff that opens up a short, minute-and-a-half long song called “Today is Especially Delicious.” When Castro is able to “open up [his] eyes” he admits that he needs help to end the destructive cycle he’s established for himself. From this point on, the lyrical narrative of the album seems to shift to a reflective view on the issues at hand.
In “The Fix is In,” Castro take full responsibility for neglecting his mental health and the unnecessary stress he has caused for himself. He wonders why he hadn’t thought to get help sooner, but rejoices over the fact that he feels more like himself again. “Monte Luna” is a powerful song with a fantastic commentary depicting the struggles associated with insomnia. It then bleeds into the outstanding, final and titular track of the album,”What’s Past is Prologue.” This groovy song neatly places the finishing touches on the themes expressed throughout the album. This track is a well-deserved victory lap, taken by Castro, who is once again comfortable with himself as he reflects upon the journey that led him to the self-acceptance that he feels today.
I would like to mention here that it has been a very long time since a single thing has filled me with as much joy as this song. The overwhelming sense of optimism and self-confidence in this track makes me feel like I can conquer the entire world with one hand tied behind my back. You simply must give it a listen, as I am sure pop-punkers will be getting many of these lyrics inked into their skin for many years to come.
The Shakespearean line “what’s past is prologue,” was written to emphasize “everything in the past has led us to today.” Castro’s lyrics, underlined by Free Throw’s clever musical emphasis, have taken this sentiment to heart and sends us on a very personal story of discovering the power of self-improvement. Throughout this adventure, we follow along with Castro on his journey towards self-acceptance. We feel every ounce of struggle, embrace, every tiny victory, and eventually relish in his reward of self love.
While it is clear to see that the path towards self-acceptance and growth may seem treacherous, Castro testified that each step in the right direction gets a little easier than the last. Free Throw symbolizes this ideology by quite literally ending the album with the same notes and lyric style as it began with, but with the smallest lyrical tweak to represent the positive changes taking place in Castro’s life. By simply changing “I guess I’m smoking again” to “I’m finally breathing again,” Castro marks massive changes in his process of thought and closes the album on emphasizing the importance of understanding the journey related to improving one’s mental health. By acknowledging the struggles of the past, and pushing to establish positive changes in his life, Castro can ensure that the future he deserves looks brighter each and every day.
And a bright future might be an understatement for this Nashville band’s future. This album presents us with Free Throw’s strongest conceptual and lyrical content yet, and it is easy to see the growth in their musical abilities, as well. This new and improved Free Throw are able to masterfully manipulate the tone and emotional intensity intended for each track and present a bolder, more refined and cohesive sound that I am sure will soon become a strong contender for that top spot on many of our Album of the Year lists.