The sophomore album from Michigan-based multi-instrumentalist Brother Wolf, After Fear plays with an anthemic, cathartic impact throughout its rock, post-punk, and electronic pursuits. The 2020s feels like a whirlwind of a decade thus far, and After Fear tackles the ample tumult within — reflecting on, among others, the suffocating qualities of a pandemic, unsettling rises in fascism, and stark societal divides.
“All the dreams that you can chase,” serene vocals enamor on the opening “Wait,” set against playful electric guitars and spacey synths. Lyrical retellings of inaction build poignantly into the “so you gotta wait for it,” segment, with a woodwind-laden feeling building momentum — and capturing the tendency of waiting, and waiting some more for the clouds to clear and the sun to emerge. This plays as a stirring commentary on the pandemic era, reflecting on the value of time, and how losing so much — personal connections, dreams, and beyond — from the act of waiting can feel debilitating. The desire for human connection and self-growth is enjoyably palpable.
“Owe It All To You” invigorates with a swifter rock charisma, exuding a dark post-punk tint in its build to the title-touting refrain. The escalating vocal fervency here compels in its multi-layered passion, with the refrain playing with a newly energized sense of self-empowerment following personal victory. The track proves reflective of the artist’s journey with overcoming drug addiction; the closing escalation consumes in this context, especially.
Self-introspection, as demonstrated in the opening tracks, can result in harrowing realizations — and “Meltdown Breakthrough” is especially enthralling in conveying as such. Lyrics present a situation of re-connecting with a new friend, wondering how the reaction will be to the prospect of “a different me.” The trickling guitars during the “I know I’ll see your face again,” hook — along with the hypnotic “pretend,” refrain — comprise a few of the many catching moments throughout.
The more electronic-forward “Snakes” (music video) resembles Depeche Mode’s cavernous introspection to start, channeling an industrial-rock ardency as buzzing textures and escalated vocals take hold. The track is a showcase of Brother Wolf’s aesthetical versatility, also represented on “Something Better,” a uniquely hooky effort that weaves autumnal chills with an alt-rock spirit.
“Something Better” also engages in its lyrical edge, reflecting on a child’s plea for change while witnessing their parents’ vitriol and fascist political intents, also prove chilling in their timeliness. “When they moved into the neighborhood, she said ‘there’s people we can’t greet,'” the vocals let out, conveying a depressive state of animosity, fueled by political opposition. “Worthless Billionaire,” written following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, also captivates in its lyrical focus on division, fueled by indifferent and sycophantic billionaires and those who hold power.
The finale “Present” asks “are you living in a place you don’t love anymore?” amidst playful keys and strumming acoustics. It’s a fitting send-off to a powerful album, expressing an eventually hopeful counterpart to the yearning opener “Wait.” The Bowie-esque vocal inflections encourage a focus on the present, rather than the tumultuous past, and aspiring for greater peace and self-introspection as a result After Fear is a moving success from Brother Wolf, feeling like an enjoyably melodic outpouring of emotions following years of chaos.