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On Being Set Free

Free From Concern is a rock duo from under the hot desert sun of Phoenix, Arizona. Their style is bass-driven post-punk and deftly amorphous rock-n-roll. They first appeared on my radar with the release of their first single My Way back in July and are now ready to release their first full-length offering, Set Free. It is exciting to see familiar faces doing something refreshing and genuinely good in Phoenix, and from a duo that isn’t motivated by clout. They’re also not fashion punks, which is the real growing pandemic in Phoenix.

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I can’t remember the last time I cried. It’s not something that I do often, which isn’t to say that I don’t ever feel like crying or don’t experience sadness, just that I rarely externalize the feeling. I unexpectedly lost my job in the first week of August and I was devastated — after four years, it was pretty unexpected. The official verbiage used by now former employer was “displaced, effective immediately.” As the numbness of shock subsided, I was consumed by a flurry of emotions: denial, anger, and a formidable wave of anxiety. I hadn’t sobbed that morning upon hearing the news because I was mourning the loss of my job, I wept in terror at the thought of what I would be losing. Our insurance, our home, our livelihood. What does it mean if I can’t go to the doctor? What does it mean that I can’t make half of my shared car payment? What does it mean if I can’t afford to buy groceries? My head was spinning. There is something so comforting about crying alone, the way isolation provides an additional layer of melancholy and self-pity. I felt myself become lulled into a tragic trance, my mind finally blank and acutely focused on each breath. I cried for what felt like hours. I was struck with a sense of clarity as the last tear dried; I was set free.

I started to imagine all the different directions in which my life could be pulled: was this my first opportunity to take my art more seriously? Would I finally have the time and energy to dedicate to properly running a magazine? I oscillated between feeling reluctantly hopeful and gnawingly hopeless.

Life doesn’t always work out as we planned, but divine timing is never wrong. The same day I lost my job was the same day I was able to listen to Free From Concern’s new LP, Set Free. I took comfort in the music as I listened through each track. Joshua’s flat voice reigned over each song with a commanding presence. Though our circumstances differed, I felt a familiar pain mirrored back to me. Wrangling for control, feeling desperate to break the vicious cycle of complacency and to make sense of the routinely confounding experience of being alive; these themes have defined the month since I was unceremoniously “displaced”. Who the fuck fires someone on a Wednesday?

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Having met around 2015 Joshua Byler and Jorge Santacruz have shared a long musical friendship with the inspiration for starting Free From Concern was having the ability to create with having less mental barriers as possible. They wanted to infuse the music with a special kind of honesty that you get when you take an off-the-cuff approach to writing. Joshua handles all the vocal duties and drums while Jorge focuses on the recording of the bass and guitars, as well as the production. Each track gleams with personality from the marriage of the clean-cutting guitar with a fuzzed-out bass, accentuated by Joshua's arresting baritone. From the very first track of Set Free, titled 663, I was captivated and charmed by tasteful minimalism and clean production.

The highlight of the whole record has to be STAY. The song begins more aggressively than the previous three songs and is blistering to the point. Around the 60-second mark, Jorge launches into a solo that goes into a bass halftime, followed by Joshua lamenting that he would like to run away from the summer sun. Another standout is the penultimate track, PLAY. True love will have to wait, right now it’s all fun and games.

Free From Concern successfully does something that a lot of contemporary releases struggle to do, which is to get to the fucking point with each song being less than two minutes long. Why overstay your welcome when you can efficiently utilize enough time to write a catchy hook and be done with it? A masterclass in being dynamic and concise, showcasing your talent while not putting us, the listeners, to sleep.

Set Free is now streaming everyone online. Go listen to it!

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