It’s a rare feat when a band’s discography is 100% certified bangers. It’s also a bit easier to do that when a band’s only ever released seven songs. Coming out with its first indie rock EP A Constant State of Ohio in 2017 as well as follow-up tracks “Saint Bernard 2” and “Saint Bernard (Sam Means Remix)” a couple of years ago, Lincoln is the “shitty lil egotistically named band” led by Lincoln Lutz. The artist is credited with providing most of the instrumentation and lyrics for the band’s releases as well as having “made the dog song.”
The “dog song” in question is “Saint Bernard,” the EP’s first track that blew up on TikTok in 2020 and gave Lincoln its current fame. What’s funny about that song’s popularity in particular is how it’s an intro track that differs widely in tone and experimentation when compared to the rest of the alt-rock record. The EP’s focus on teenage heartbreak, religious trauma and all good things Midwest emo results in four traditionally indie rock-driven songs that are preceded by this ominous “Saint Bernard,” which sounds more like a satanic sea shanty. “Saint Bernard 2” is when Lutz “tried to (redo ‘Saint Bernard’) in a way that made sense to where (he is) now,” filling the humming void of the former track with orchestral gospel instrumentation and rewriting his vocals with a more mature, reflective tone. This evolving experimentation is what defines the 12 wonderfully written, exceptionally orchestrated and wildly diverse tracks of Everything is Wrong.
The album’s title track introduces lonely yet lovely synth notes setting up a liminal environment for Lutz to vocalize his sense of things going wrong — he hasn’t “been feeling / So good as of late / It’s another perfect night / to spend wide awake.” What follows is a laundry list of ironic, bittersweet and beautiful oddities of modernity, ranging from “Words, buzzwords, synonyms / McMansions, Satanic hymns” to “Waterfalls, fireflies / Angry laughs and happy cries.” These all contribute to a sense of derealization, where Lutz asks “How do you know you’re really awake?” The list is then repeated as the drum beats and chords swell into a chaotic choir until it all fades then cuts out, and Lutz finds he can only harmonize with himself.
It’s a far cry from the band’s alt-rock origins, and the rest of the album cries out further. The A-side of the record navigates love, God, age, loss and art as it transitions from pop-rock rooted tracks like “Baby Take My Acid” (featuring Penelope Scott) to slower jams like “Manager’s Special,” which still rings out with strained vulnerability. My new favorite is “Oh Lord Two (featuring Pollyanna),” which uses record and instrumental distortion to create a sense of chaos while the singers still find contentment within it, concluding: “Whatever way things turn out / Is the way they’re supposed to be.”
The B-side starts with the sudden addition of jazz elements and themes of self-identity in “Shotgun” — swung synth chords and hi-hat taps create a more grounded atmosphere as Lutz dials back his energy in favor of deeper musings, then throws it all into a wall of drums with droning synth notes and chords as he laments, “They shouldn’t have told me / To just be myself,” that “I have to keep / Telling myself / I still like to pretend.” The noise dies down for a moment before Lutz cries out amidst a chaotic refrain: “If you want a wreck / Then you’ve got one / Pull the wheel towards you / From shotgun.” There’s an immediate transition into “10,000 Normal People” — more of an interlude than an actual track — where Lutz’s distorted voice sings about the unique yet universal aching experience of projecting yourself into the modern world: “You feel like everybody hates you / Every day / So you need 10,000 normal people / To love you deeply in every way.”
While its themes and instrumentation seem to be a hard diversion from the rest of the album at first, “From God” comes back to form with rock and indie elements seemingly aimed at a former lover but then directing ire towards the universe itself and its “14 billion years just to put it all together.” Back to jazz, “Life, the Universe and Everything” mimics “Fly Me to the Moon” for its intro but then returns to the themes from the A-side and ties the B-side’s identity crisis to them with some of my favorite lines: “Before you even knew my world / Its meaning somehow laid in you,” “I thought my dad’s teeth were disgusting / But God now look at me” and “So when somebody claims to know me / It’s hard not to ask them if they’ll bet.” Among assertions of love, the penultimate track, “Everything,” poses a final question: “What is everything?” The closing song “Oh Lord” doesn’t answer, only promising “God isn’t dead / But it hasn’t been born yet,” where Lutz fully realizes what it means to end ‘Everything’: “The part of me that wants to die is only yearning to transcend.”
The album closes with a reprise of Everything is Wrong’s opening notes, paralleling Lutz’s initial high melodic lyrics with lower, flatter and more tired delivery — “Oh Lord” opens with relatively the same melody pitched down, reflecting a literal and figurative tonal shift towards the end of the LP. As he concludes “Every little escape you can take / Will lead you all to another cage,” it’s easy to interpret that Lincoln’s final take is that everything is indeed wrong and inescapable. However, it’s possible that “Oh Lord” isn’t the final say. Remember “Saint Bernard?” Then “Saint Bernard 2?” Remember “Oh Lord Two” — sung in two-part harmony between aging lovers addressing each other and God to ask, among other things, “If time happens all at once / Is forever just today?” They instead conclude, “Whatever way things turn out / Is the way they’re supposed to be.” Maybe the track order could be Lincoln foreshadowing a potential hopeful conclusion for those who seek it out. Maybe the album starts on that high mood and the rest of the album is the fall. Maybe I’m just the one getting everything wrong.
While the teenage angst instrumentation and vocals of A Constant State of Ohio unified its limited tracks much more cohesively than the disparate production elements and laid-back lower lyrics of Everything is Wrong, Lincoln’s debut uses its expansive experimentation to its advantage. It takes every genre element it’s willing to tinker with and includes them all in this “everything” the album intends to comment on. In doing so, it has captured our existential ennui in an album that creates catharsis and freedom from our modern malaise. If we’re able to admit that everything is wrong, then maybe we can make everything right — the way it’s supposed to be.
Digital Culture Beat Editor Saarthak Johri can be reached at email@example.com.