Derek Sanders – ‘The Heavy Box’

By Katherine Allvey

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when a frontman releases a solo record, there will simultaneously be no surprises and lots of surprises. We could have guessed that Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music would unleash his grizzly bear voice on his solo albums, but that he’d produce amazing woodsman country and western? No clue! The same goes for Derek Sanders, universally beloved elven prince frontman of Mayday Parade. ‘The Heavy Box’, his second solo EP after 2020’s ‘My Rock n Roll Heart’ contains the purity of sentiment and ice cream choruses that we’d expect from Mayday Parade, but his decision to strip his music back to the barest of bones is a bold move that puts him a million miles from his comfort zone. This is a recording of a soul laid bare with minimal instrumentation to hide behind, and that bravery is what makes this a beautiful EP. 

‘Howell Canyon’ is “about dealing with the sadness that comes from an important chapter in my life ending. The song takes a look back but also forward towards a more hopeful future,” and there’s something about the desperate vocals over the tinny drum machine that covers this song in pathos like bitter birthday sprinkles. “Your love is one in ten,” sings Derek, and there’s something so cuttingly mundane about that sentiment. Mike Hanson from local Tallahassee band Goodbye Love jumps in to give a regretful punkish edge to ‘With You On The Ground’, possibly the song which is the closest to a ‘punk’ track and lets the vocals float in like tiny lapping waves over an oil slick. ‘True Story Of The Boy Whose Exploits Panicked A Nation’ is the soundtrack to a candlelight vigil for chances lost, and the soft Lord Of The Rings intro takes your hand and leads you out of the darkness like a mysterious friend.

For the Mayday Parade faithful, final track ‘For Dear Life’ will be doubly bittersweet: this is the first time Sanders has shared the microphone with former Mayday Parade frontman Jason Lancaster since his departure in 2007. Slow and minimal piano chords with a touch of quiet strings make this number half Disney duet and half religious experience, and the layering of their voices is what lifts this song out of the schmalz. 

‘The Heavy Box’ is a dreamlike EP, and Derek Sanders has definitely got in touch with his inner ethereal woodland creature. If you’re expecting a new Mayday Parade record, you will not find it here.  But you will find something personal, raw and somewhat lovely, a set of songs which Sanders needed to get off his chest and out into the world. A perfect record for the small hours of the morning when the rain begins to fall. 

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