Over the past two years, Augustana has faced an uncertain future. Justin South and Jared Palomar, two of the three core members of the band, left the group. That left Dan Layus as the lone member of the band. There were questions on whether he would continue on with Augustana or whether he would embark on a solo career. Then, he decided to do some acoustic shows by himself. That solidified the status of Augustana as a one-man captained group, with Layus writing all the music and making all the decisions. Now, Layus is back promoting a new Augustana record, his first since the change. He also has a new label in Razor & Tie. The end product of Augustana's new direction with Layus solely at the helm is the new album, Life Imitating Life.
The new album was produced by John O'Mahony in New York in part while the other part was produced by Layus himself and recorded at his home in Nashville. Since the band is no longer a major label band, you can immediately hear the different direction in recording and production. This album is meant to take on more of a natural vibe than an over-produced one. With only a few session musicians on a few of the songs, most of the tracking and recording was done by Layus himself. Sometimes with the help of O'Mahony, sometimes not. The goal in that process was to record the parts, then when they felt right, just keep them and move on. Sometimes it works amazingly well - especially at the front of the record. Sometimes it works dreadfully - some of the vocal cuts at the end of the album, are just not good.
The recording right away makes this an Augustana album that's different from the band's previous three records. The songwriting done by Layus is the exclamation point to just how different this record is. This is primarily a folk record with some pop rock mixed in. Not a pop rock record with some folk elements. Layus took charge of the writing with the Augustana records when there was more than him in the studio, the rest of the band just took his lead. So just because it's Layus and nobody else isn't why it's a different record. It's a different record because Layus intentionally steered Augustana in a new direction. He does some things differently with lyrics. The structures of the songs are different from song to song too. There's no 'don't bore us, get to the chorus' with Augustana anymore, it's all about the journey with the band.
This Augustana record is by far and away the most different piece of music that the group has released. Not everything on here works. Sometimes the recording feels off and at times the lyrics that Layus singing seem like repetitive clichès. Even with those slights, you can admire just how brave of an album this is. It takes a lot of courage for an artist to make purposeful changes in direction without even a hint of fearing the repercussions. That's what Layus did with this new record. That alone makes it worth listening to.