Our Take: Bleachers’ Self-Titled Fourth Album Is a Sentimental, Peaceful Celebration from New Jersey’s Finest & Friends

'Bleachers' by Bleachers album art
'Bleachers' by Bleachers album art

Jason's Take

9 Music Quality
8 Sonic Diversity
7 Content Originality
10 Lyricism
8 Memorability
10 Production
10 Arrangement
Out of the depths of introspection, Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers returns with ruminations on loss, love, and not letting go on his eponymous fourth studio album.
Stream: ‘Bleachers’ – Bleachers

The eponymous album is a key moment in many an artist’s career.

For some, it’s their debut; maybe they feel they already know who they are or maybe they just want to make a bold entrance. For others it comes later, possibly signaling a change in style or direction. For Bleachers, the eponymous fourth album has now arrived, and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect moment.

As Jack Antonoff declares in Bleachers’ opening track, “For once in my life, I am right on time.”

My mind is mirrors
don’t know what is
and what’s reflection
the future’s past
I’m right on time
Bleachers - Bleachers
Bleachers – Bleachers

Bleachers was born in 2014 by Steel Train frontman and fun. band member Jack Antonoff. Antonoff has gone on to produce much of today’s most popular music, garnering back-to-back Grammy wins for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical and being dubbed by some as the “pop music hoarder” of his generation. He’s even spun up remarkable side projects like supergroup Red Hearse (with Sam Dew and Sounwave) and nonprofit The Ally Coalition.

Through it all though, Bleachers has been the constant.

It’s fitting, if not expected that this is Bleachers’ eponymous album, because Bleachers is truly an amalgamation of everything that precedes it. In its wake, “Hey Joe” leaves us with the question, “What is it called, giving up a piece of you to let go.”

Yet the album begets the feeling that Antonoff truly doesn’t know; he carries all his pieces with him. Every thread of his life, be it beautiful or phantom, is stitched together within the fabric of this album.

My bed was a place for the lonely
built it that way
came to think it was holy
that was me blue

Bleachers © Alex Lockett
Bleachers © Alex Lockett

The loss of Antonoff’s sister at a young age has long been the undercurrent of, if not the reason for, his music career.

Like in past albums, her absence is again felt in Bleachers. “I’d lost the whole world when she’d gone,” Antonoff recounts in “Woke Up Today,” a song that finds him straddling space and time as he reflects on the heavy weight of mortality. However, where that weight felt particularly arduous on albums like 2017’s Gone Now, Bleachers offers a degree of balance and levity.

Much of that levity is thanks to Antonoff’s wife Margaret. Indeed, actress Margaret Qualley more than anyone is at the core of this particular album. A quarter of the tracks on Bleachers read as love songs to her, and while Antonoff is no stranger to the form (“Wake Me,” “Let’s Get Married,” and “Not So Typical Love Song,” to name a few), this latest set feels sentimental, bolder and more intimate. With mysterious lines like “I’m your dark horse clown” and referential titles like “Isimo,” hearing the songs feel like reading a diary; while Antonoff sings of bearing witness to Margaret in tracks like “Ordinary Heaven,” we bear witness to the depths of his love for her.

You’re just like the rain
carrying everyone’s shame
but you move just like a river
no, you don’t move an inch of it, babe

“Tiny Moves,” “Me Before You,” and “Isimo” are standouts for these more intimate moments. With its soft ‘80s nostalgia and many a “sha-la-la,” “Tiny Moves” is infectious and beautiful. The beauty of “Me Before You” and “Isimo” lies in their lyrics. “Like your magnet heart and sentimental boulder, I carry with you, throw it on my shoulder” evokes E.E. Cummings poem “I Carry Your Heart with Me” or the climactic moment in Return of the King where Samwise Gamgee physically carries Frodo up Mount Doom. For a band frequently ripe with upbeat tempos, blaring saxophone solos and heavy production, these quieter tracks find Bleachers at their most organic, raw, and vulnerable.

In these more intimate and poetic moments, it’s hard not to draw comparison to another New Jersey native. Having been previously featured on “Chinatown” off Bleachers’ third album Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night and now spiritually present in Bleachers, Bruce Springsteen’s impact on Jack Antonoff begs the question of how much Antonoff intends to position Bleachers as the millennial E Street Band going forward.

Time will tell, but between the county twang of “We’re Gonna Know Each Other Forever” and the vocal distortions of “The Waiter,” it’s more likely Bruce will just be one of the many sounds and styles Bleachers brings to the table. Some sounds are clear hits; the pulsating and syncopated “Self Respect” is a resounding high point of the album, offering the rhythmic moments of 2014’s debut album Strange Desire alongside the big band energy of Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. Others, like the psychedelic, electronic bonus track “Drug Free America,” miss the mark. One thing’s for certain – Jack Antonoff never shies away from taking a swing.

Let’s make it Bleachers, make it sure
the louder you scream the harder he blows

Bleachers © Alex Lockett
Bleachers © Alex Lockett

Bleachers is as much an honoring of Jack Antonoff’s literal family as it is a celebration of his chosen one.

From vocals to production to instrumentals, Antonoff pulls together a star-studded cast. The 1975’s Matty Healy plays piano, Bartees Strange strums guitar, and Lana del Ray posits whether you’d like some of Antonoff’s newer music. Red Hearse gets a reunion; Sam Dew’s vocals on “Call Me After Midnight” are as alluring as ever. The spotlight turns to the dueling saxes of Zem Audu and “Texas Man” Evan Smith in the punk “Jesus Is Dead;” the lyrics shout out Mikey Freedom Hart and Sean “Hutch” Hutchinson in the explosive “Modern Girl.” Even skateboarding legend and very-much-not-musician Rodney Mullen appears on “Ordinary Heaven,” a song reminiscent of Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder.” In this celebration, everyone has time to shine.

The vocals themselves are also a celebration, with most of the album’s fourteen tracks stacking vocal layers atop one another. Some of these layers are from Antonoff’s musical rolodex; Florence Welsh offers backing vocals in “Self Respect,” while Claud provides support in “Hey Joe.” Others are simply a chorus of different Jack Antonoffs, perhaps finally in harmony with one another.

In all of the voices, there’s peace and togetherness in what had in past stages been isolationism. Having previously released a song as dark and isolating as Gone Now’s “Foreign Girls,” it’s moving to recognize just how large of a community Jack Antonoff has built.

For all of Jack Antonoff’s many accolades, perhaps the greatest of all is the support network he’s made along the way.

— —

:: stream/purchase Bleachers here ::
:: connect with Bleachers here ::
Stream: “Tiny Moves” – Bleachers

— — — —

Bleachers - Bleachers

Connect to Bleachers on
Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
? © Jack Antonoff


an album by Bleachers

More from Jason Brillon