Following a series of EPs and singles, the debut album from the Brooklyn band is a culmination of an ambitious artistic journey, both written through and chronicling songwriter Nick LaFalce’s ongoing battle with Lyme Disease
While originally designed to document the faces and places of the Brooklyn music community, the Bands do BK book also ended up chronicling my own experiences within the music scene, and there has been perhaps no friendship more formative than the one I share with Nick LaFalce, the frontman, primary songwriter and mastermind of BK indie-rock band Atlas Engine.
I knew Nick and I would be best friends the moment he showed up as my guest on the first-ever episode of the Bands do BK radio show wearing a yellow t-shirt with a bear piloting an airplane that said “Flying is just plane fun!” And in adrenaline- and tequila-fueled fashion at Our Wicked Lady right after the broadcast, I’m pretty sure I informed him of our destiny.
A multi-instrumentalist who got his first guitar at six and has been playing music for almost as many years as he’s been alive, Nick is not just an experienced artist but a true perfectionist. And a year after our first meeting, deep into COVID, I was writing the book, he was working on his album, and we had adopted a mutual mantra that we texted back and forth regarding our respective projects: Do it right.
But the thing about doing it right is that it takes time. Effort. Care. It’s something you can’t fake and something can’t rush. But finally, after a string of singles and two EPs released over the course of two years, When the Compass Resets, There Can Be No Regrets officially dropped yesterday and I’m stoked to share that I can finally, as an Atlas Engine fan, enjoy the album that I was so lucky to witness the making of as Nick’s friend.
The best friendships require sharing part of yourself. So does the best art. And with these songs Nick is at his most open and vulnerable as for the first time he shares and explores his ongoing battle with Lyme disease.
Given the fact he lived undiagnosed with the chronic illness for ten years, one could also say that, unbeknownst to the artist himself, Lyme has been a factor in all of the art Nick has produced since his early 20s, a constant presence—whether active or lying in wait—affecting the physical, mental and emotional states in which his music was inspired, written and refined. However, while it may have long affected the context of the art, this series of releases mark the first time it’s served as the real subject matter, and this album chronicles what Nick describes as “a decade of cyclical confusion, relief, and frustration” that encompasses the journey from contraction to diagnosis to learning to live with the disease.
In coordination with the album’s release, Nick shared a breakdown of the album’s 12 tracks, which all demonstrate intense intention, and deserve your full attention, each simultaneously designed to serve as a “self-contained journey” and part of a larger, ongoing story he’s long been waiting to tell. Even while he didn’t know exactly what it would be about.
WHEN THE COMPASS RESETS THERE CAN BE NO REGRETS—TRACK BY TRACK:
01. “(Compass: Overture)”
While finishing the album’s last track “I Never Get as Far as I Run”, I saw how well it wrapped up the themes from the others and decided that an album with a proper ending deserves a proper beginning. So what started as a 30 second intro quickly became an intricate overture that incorporates musical elements, lyrics, and themes from the album’s other 11 interconnected songs The album’s artwork acts similarly, as there are lyrics/concepts from each song incorporated brilliantly by our visual counterpart Micha Huigen. I’ll leave it to the true Engine Heads to find all the Easter eggs throughout
02. “As You Are”
As I was writing this, I instantly knew it was the blueprint for how the rest of the album should be. Musically, our first few releases were pretty safe, so this time around I gave myself permission to get a little weird. This was the first Atlas Engine song where my songwriter, producer, and composer personalities finally felt synced up. It was a new direction but live it was an instant crowd favorite so that was all the validation we needed to keep pushing in that direction. We recorded this song three separate times in various studios with different arrangements and feels before getting it to match how I was hearing it in my head but I’m glad we took the time to do it right.
03. “Modern Mind” // 04. “(Compass II)”
Modern Mind expands on the ideas in “As You Are”: humanity’s relationship with the technology we create and the difficulty we have balancing its benefits with its dangers. How our technology evolves quicker than our own biology can accommodate, how it’s turned us into anxious, addicted, wannabe androids. So with the first two songs connected, that was all I needed to be convinced to make a concept record. I had also been hesitant on putting guitar solos in this band because I, along with society, got kind of sick of them for a while. Lockdown provided more time for experimentation so I let myself try it out, which paved the way for a lot more “guitar playing” on this record than previous Atlas Engine releases, so hopefully that comes through in a refreshing way.
05. “All I Want is Everything // Alternate State”
Based on the title, I knew this was a good time to try…everything. I had been experimenting more with synths, beats, and sequencers and Meredith had just started singing with us so that all allowed us to keep adding new elements and stretching the boundaries of where the band and record could go. The end of the song was actually the first part that I wrote, so I loved being able to work backwards and craft a whole song that builds to that part. Repeating that line over and over again, with layers stacking on top of each other creates this nice moment where the music and the lyrics are in perfect service to each other, which is really…all I want…
06. “Not Enough” // 07. “(Thoughts and Prayers)”
This is a song that had been written back in 2017-18. It was originally something I didn’t want to discuss in our music but the countless shootings in 2020 changed that. The lyrics to this one had by far the most revisions, because every time I thought I was finished, there’d be another shooting, sparking more anger that I had to get out. I’m proud of the song and its message but truly heartbroken with how often it’s relevant.
I wanted to create a cliffhanger to end Part 1, and that’s “(Thoughts and Prayers)”. The melody plays like a conversation – the first phrase is a hopeful question, like ”do you think will this ever change?” which is answered with a descending “It sounds nice but don’t hold your breath” Little did I know at the time, the last few seconds there would become the seedling to “I Never Get as Far as I Run.”
08. “No Shadow”
This one was originally written to be a quick high-energy intro we could use to open our live show, get the crowd behind us, and make sure the sound was all in order before getting into the proper set. It worked great for that, and as we kept playing it, I started adding lyrics until it became a more fleshed-out little song that sets up the second half of the record.
09. “Simple Animal”
A lot of our songs are complicated! And they always demand a lot from our fans, and new listeners especially. Seeing friends in Brooklyn play short, simple songs really well one night was both an inspiration and a challenge to see if I could do the same. And yes, “Simple Animal” is basically two songs, but the first is as lean as they come – the chorus hits within 30 seconds. The second half organically started to write itself in the demo process, so the “keep it simple” prompt was a helpful starting point, but when more inspiration comes, you have to follow it because the end of this one might be my favorite part of the record.
Over lockdown, we were going through tons of my old demos for inspiration. I always thought Secrets was too different for Atlas Engine, but Meredith liked it and convinced me to give it a shot. So we performed it at a live-streamed music festival from my apartment and quickly realized how well it worked with our voices. Since the vocal parts are in unison, we decided to record both our vocals together Beach Boys style, which I think leveled up both of our performances. While on the surface this song sounds like a fun, simple bop, I love the subliminal curveballs it throws along the way.
11. “(All I Ever Do is Dream)”
This was inspired by the convenient combination Lyme disease provides of being tired by day and sleepless by night. This was originally written as a quick 40 second interlude but with the combination of lockdown and a home studio, it blossomed into its own song. This was another time I explored new areas with my own guitar playing I would’ve never tried without the extra time at home. I’ve also since realized this title was subconsciously inspired by the Everly Brothers, “All I Have to Do is Dream”, but hey, whatever gets you there.
12. “I Never Get as Far as I Run”
While the other songs on the album hint at aspects of my experience with Lyme disease (the mental and physical symptoms, how it affects your relationships) this is where I really leaned into specifics. This title spilt onto the paper while journaling and stopped me in my tracks. It was a 10 year odyssey to get my diagnosis, to only learn there’s no certain path to full recovery, so this song reflects my frustrations in experiencing and accepting this reality. I wrote this and the overture at the same time, which allowed me to bounce between them and craft proper musical and lyrical bookends for the album.
When the Compass Resets, There Can Be No Regrets is out everywhere now! Celebrate TONIGHT when Atlas Engine hits the stage at Berlin with Van Chamberlain, The Dracu-Las and CR and the Nones, then SATURDAY at Our Wicked Lady w/ Karma Brigade (Iceland), Couch Prints, Wetsuit and Sandile (tix available here).
Follow Atlas Engine at @atlasenginemusic, buy music on bandcamp and add the songs to your Spotify playlists!
Feature image (provided by the band): Michelle LoBianco