Precisely 35 seconds into the opening track of 16 Frames’ debut album, the clouds part and a monumental chorus breaks through. “Then you wake up to the big change/To the breakup done at close range,” sings bandleader Steve Sulikowski, climbing upward through a dense forest of guitars to the top of his range. “And that love is such a cruel thing,” he continues, as he relives this heartbreaking moment, “What you want, you got/But you can’t hold on anymore.”
At once intimate and overwhelming, it’s a breathtaking passage, one the listener isn’t prepared for, not only because it happens so quickly, but also because such transcendent moments are so uncommon in 21st century rock. As it turns out, conjoined musical and emotional crescendos are plentiful on Where It Ends, the album in question (released March 24 on Verve), produced by the veteran Matt Serletic (Matchbox 20, Santana’s “Smooth”).
Take the album’s first single, “Back Again,” where the lyrics trace the aftermath of a break-up, contemplating the emptiness left behind, while the widescreen musical payoff captures not only the sense of loss, but the fullness of the love affair that has come to an end. Or consider “Coming Home,” its vivid narrative carried along by a cruising groove evoking miles flying by on the interstate, the chorus acting as a door opening to reveal faces from a life left behind. Other tracks, like “My History” and the title song, erupt out of intimate, acoustic essences, the former buoyed by shimmering harmonies redolent of L.A. circa 1972.
Then there’s the pivotal “Daylight,” recorded quickly as a demo following the completion of the album, swelling up from a loping, jangly opening to a thrilling goosebump chorus. It was added to the album in its original form, because it was just that good . Every inspired musical touch is there for one reason: to serve the song.
Some bands function as democracies; others are shaped around a single-minded sensibility. L.A.-based 16 Frames is wholly the product of Sulikowski’s vision, and his talented bandmates—guitarist Josh Dunahoo, drummer Daniel James and bass player Dylan Wilson, the most recent addition to the lineup—are dedicated to the task of bringing that vision to life.
The band name, referring to the rate at which film runs through a projector, isn’t arbitrary. “I think of writing a song as being like making a little movie, with a beginning, middle and end,” Sulikowski explains. “It’s exciting and satisfying to get something that feels complete, even if I’m playing it on an acoustic guitar. I get this high when I come up with a melody, and I chase it, but I beat myself up over these lyrics. I wanted them to make sense, to tell a story—something meaningful to me, so that when I sang a song night after night I could draw from it. I love performing live and I love recording songs—although in the end I’m never really happy with anything I do.” At this he smiles uneasily, not wanting to come off like a tortured artist but unable to play down what he describes as “a weird ordeal.”