Sup, Muscles? – “More Feelings”

Grade: A-

Key Track: “It Totally Would Have Happened”

In an ever-growing emo scene, bands have to become more and more adaptable – twinkly guitars and lyrics about basements aren’t going to cut it anymore. It’s becoming a bloated scene, and bands have to find ways to stand out from the crowd. Pittsburgh’s Sup, Muscles? come ready to answer the question. While sticking to emo principles, their debut EP comes alongside less straightforward songwriting, dual vocals, and occasional saxophone.

Sup, Muscles? bill themselves as having a female lead singer (Molly Spear). So when the opening track, “I’m Resilient” starts, it’s surprising to hear a man singing. But after about a minute and twenty seconds, the song re-energizes itself and Spear takes over. What follows is a song that is both rhythmic and despondent, in a way a lot of emo bands aren’t entirely capable of achieving. It’s both fun and utterly desperate. The same goes for most of the five-track EP. The band balances different emotions instead of just playing an onslaught of sadness.

The band, consisting of Spear, Jacob Campbell (guitar/vocals), Trevor Wedekind (guitar) and John Paul Zigterman (drums), creates their appeal in the music and it’s songwriting. Three of the five tracks have tempo changes where the band essentially stops and regroups before various increases in volume/speed. It’s a little much, but it works on a track-by-track basis. It works the best on “Danica,” where the track does literally stop for a moment, before warping into something else. The songwriting is also a little math-y at times, complex and changing. “Drinking Alone Can Only Take You So Far” and the climax of “Something About Ghosts” offer the most intense moments, the former courtesy of rough energy, and the latter of dual, battling screams.

For the most part, the band focuses more on music than lyrics, but they do offer little slivers of wasteful gold. The climax to closer “Something About Ghosts” has singer Campbell screaming “I am a ghost” while Spear is screaming “You’re the living.” It’s a particularly affecting double line, especially considering that the lyrics prior aren’t the aspect that grab you.

“More Feelings” is a promising debut. It’s got more to offer than most by-the-books emo groups: dense music, tempo changes, reliance on screamed vocals. It never quite decides on a tone, and that’s fine, because it creates a bit of a disconnect. It makes the music feel like the band is trying not to care, even though they do – you know, like good emo. Spear’s songwriting is strong, and the band is creating music that is consistently surprising. The tempo changes do get a little exhausting, but Sup, Muscles? are clearly a band that take the time to perfect the uniqueness of their songs. It’s tough to break out into emo these days, but “More Feelings” is a solid start.

Listen for yourself here.

If you like this, try: House Olympics’ “…And My Mind is Restless,” another emo EP that relies on heavier vocals.

-By Andrew McNally

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Crying – “Get Olde/Second Wind”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Bloom,” “Bodega Run”

To people who have never heard Crying, this double EP is something really new. To fans, it’s very literally not new. The first half is just a reprint of last year’s “Get Olde” EP, combined with a new “Second Wind” EP. So it can’t technically be labeled as an album, and the combination does not answer the listener’s question of why this was done in the first place. Still, “Get Olde” is an excellent EP, and their blend of emo, indie and chiptune is incredibly unique.

What separates Crying from Run For Cover Records labelmates like, say, Pity Sex or Tiger’s Jaw is definitely, unequivocally the use of the digital, video-game-y sounds. It’s a primary focus of their music – the main instrument on every track. Sometimes it’s shrill, sometimes it’s melodic, other times it doesn’t seem to fit and you wonder if you’re going to get a break from it. Luckily, Crying take it upon themselves to differentiate every track, so their unique sound doesn’t become an automatic staple after the first go-around.

It’s easy to describe Crying as a chiptune band, one instrument is literally a Game Boy. But where other bands have experimented with this before, they’ve never roped in such unexpected lyrics. Similar bands often take goofy tones, mimicking the video game world they’re trying to engross. But Crying sing on a real plane – real people in a real, crushing world. “Vacation” namechecks Costco and flip phones, proving they’re living in a globalized society. And frequent references to bodegas cement the band as New York apartment-dwellers, not suburban basement-surviving nerds. It’s a distinction, because Crying’s music has a dense aura to it.

Both EP’s have their up and down moments. They both end on slow tracks (“ES” and “Close,” respectively), and neither really works that well. But both EP’s have honest and devastating lyrics, often delivered in Elaiza’s exasperated vocals. And while “Get Olde” stays right by the Boy’s side, “Second Wind” lets up some room for some drum (“Easy Flight”) and some guitar moments (“Batang Killjoy”). The second side is more varied and denser than “Get Olde,” although the band is more consistent in the release’s first half. I’ve been on to Crying for a while now; their first full-lengthed release is an extremely interesting listen. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun, desperate mess, and it’s a promising release for the future.

-By Andrew McNally

The Jazz June – “after the earthquake”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “over underground” “edge of space”

The dream of the 90’s is alive, and it’s a sad, forced dream. The Jazz June are back for their first album in 12 years, willfully back to participate in the emo movement that they helped spawn. Nothing has really changed in the interim – they’re still playing invitingly intimate songs with a half-forced energy that are equally ready for the radio and for the underground.

Most of the songs on the album deal, at least seemingly, with relationships and self-confusion. “stuck on repeat” has a repeated section of the line “I’m still trying to figure it out,” a line that lands harder coming from a band that’s been inactive for over a decade. The album is marked by lyrics that are somewhat vague but appropriate – “I still don’t know where you are” on “nothing to see here,” “You thought I was perfect / But you got it wrong” on “it came back.” “edge of space” is also pretty noteworthy, a track about Felix Baumgartner and the former astronaut who helped plan his famous dive. These somewhat muddy lyrics are more indicative of the 90’s emo scene that the Jazz June were heavily involved in, instead of the often hyper-specific lyrics of newer bands. And, it couples better with the equally muddy music.

The Jazz June, like many of their second wave-emo contemporaries, played relatively standard music. It’s distinguishably alternative, with an emo twist – think being influenced by early Weezer and actively trying not to sound like early Weezer. The downside is that some tracks don’t stand out. The upside is the ones that do really do. Opener “over underground” starts with a screeching guitar, sirening their return. And late album treasure “nothing to see here” has a big and unexpected guitar crunch in its chorus, one that helps to break up the album’s general midtempo nature. Otherwise, it’s pretty standard alternative fare – inoffensive, kind of inconsistent, but fitting.

To someone first coming into emo, being exposed to bands like, say, the Front Bottoms, or Glocca Morra or Radiator Hospital, the Jazz June might not make that much of a lasting impression at first. But their return is all about the melding of two eras – the Jazz June are back, Mineral are back, Braid are back. The Jazz June were and are a band’s band – though never famous, they’ve set the template for bands that have come since. The shoving out of third-wave emo and welcoming of fourth-wave has brought the once-young sad and melodic people of the 90’s out of hiding. The Jazz June are back, and hearing something so straightforward is really pretty refreshing.

The album comes out tomorrow, 11/11/14, on – where else – Topshelf Records.

If you like this, try: I just recommended this in a different review, but Prawn’s recent “Kingfisher” album speaks more of an older, bigger sound, than a newer, more condensed one.

-By Andrew McNally

Dads – “I’ll Be the Tornado”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Grand Edge, MI” “Sold Year/Transitions”

Gone are the days of “Groin Twerk” and albums with ‘Radass’ in the title. Dads’ perpetual lyrical theme of growing up and drifting away comes stronger, as the Jersey duo mature in leaps and bounds over their last record. We saw this transition coming, on the decidedly not-so-emo “Pretty Good,” an EP that never really found it’s place. “I’ll Be the Tornado,” an LP, completes the transition into a serious, adult band. Except, they’re still punk.

Much like last year’s “Pretty Good,” the guys bounce around in a few different influences. This album has much more flow than “Pretty Good,” not trying to make any statements about the music, instead letting the audience accept it as it comes. The album’s acoustic opening isn’t a copout, it’s part of a build-up, and it’s unexpected. (And it’s reminiscent of this year’s largely acoustic Cardinal Cardinal EP, the side project of John Bradley). We’re still kind of expecting disassembled, roaring songs like “Get to the Beach!” but they’re not present. Instead, we get a number of flowing rock tracks, with occasional punk jams (“You Hold Back”), emo ballads (“But”) and some slight, leftover twee rhythms (“Chewing Ghosts”). “I’ll Be the Tornado” is more straightforward and accessible, if not still tough around the edges. Two part track “Sold Year/Transitions” has a rough and straining transition in the middle that’s fresher than most of the album’s other music. Dads feel comfortable falling into more traditional rock, but they can still pull it all off.

And they can pull it off because John Bradley’s lyrics, vocals and drums haven’t changed a note. “I’ll Be the Tornado” is a drum-heavy work, logical when you’re a duo with a drummer who sings lead. And Bradley’s lyrics are as ‘fresh’ as they’ve ever been. They have a certain ‘creative writing 101 course’ feel to them – poetic only in their specificity, direct, regretful and reminiscent. His lyrics are always unique, opting for straight punches rather than anything subversive. “I want to be happy,” Bradley starkly admits on “You Hold Back,” which seems a contrast to everything before and after it on the album. Bradley, and Scott Sharinger, explore feelings of unease and uncomfortable maturity, not knowing what to want or expect out of life. As with previous albums, many of their lyrics are based around falling back on memories because you can’t make anything of the future. “I need something new to obsess over,” says second track “Chewing Ghosts.” And reflections on others are present, as always. “You wanna hang Christmas lights in the summer/An excuse to spend time with each other” Bradley sings on “Sold Year/Transitions.” And Bradley also sings about his own dad’s health struggles, with references peppering the album throughout. The album is honest, even for Dads, with frank poetry and gut-hitting remembrances.

The only real fault of the album is that in its embrace of more traditional rock music, it sputters out towards the end. The album ends with “Take Back Today” and the 7+ minute “Only You,” both of which are musically pleasing songs, but aren’t the big finish the album needs. They’re both kind of ho-hum songs, not hitting the same level that the rest of the album does. So it dampers the album a bit, but not enough to discredit the eight songs before it. “I’ll Be the Tornado” is still a wildly and unexpectedly progressive album for the band, one that’s also regressive in many ways. It’s definiably Dads, but it’s more open, grittier, slower, clearer, and even more honest. Gone are the punk blasts, and they’re missed, but the replacements are more than welcomed.

If you like this, try: Prawn’s recent album, “Kingfisher,” another more mature sounding emo album, albeit one that takes an entirely different lyrical approach.

The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Broken Bodies”

Grade: B

Key Track: “If And When I Die”

Nine-member band The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die aren’t exactly known for palpable, conventional music. You can probably tell by staring at their eighteen syllable name. Their mix of emo, ambiance, twee-pop and dissonance has, for a few years now, brought a fresh voice to a scene dominated largely by straight pop-punk. Their new EP, recorded alongside spoken word artist Chris Zizzamia, is even more confoundingly complex and headache-y than their previous works.

The band, who I’m going to shorten to The World Is to avoid carpal tunnel (no offense!), brought on Zizzamia to bring a form of intense narration to their ambient music. They knew it would polarize fans – only the people truly onboard with them would appreciate it, because it is tough to swallow. Zizzamia spits some beautiful poetry throughout the EP, about human bodies making up stars, intertwining, and facing invincibility, all capping off with the beautiful line “I think my name is safest in your mouth” in the finale, “Autotonsorialist.” Another great line, “I like you like I like the dark/Why would I aim to defeat it?” peppers the track “Shoppers Beef.” Zizzamia is an interesting addition to the band – it isn’t just that spoken word works well alongside the band’s music, it’s that his spoken word works well. His flowing poetry, moving through anger, hope and experiment, is told with a spitting clarity and a scathing touch. It’s a strange fit, but that’s kind of the band’s MO, after all.

The band takes pages out of every section of their own playbook on “Broken Bodies.” Through the eight tracks, there’s a long, experimental opening, build-ups to climaxes that don’t happen, a conventional song (“$100 Tip”) that fades out into a multi-minute drum segment, and a track with a full, driving beat (“Space Explorations to Solve Earthly Crises”). They hit all their own notes. There are actual vocals throughout the album, in a few tracks. Some are just Zizzamia, some are both, and occasionally we get them simultaneously.

The fault in the EP’s experimentation is that it doesn’t have quite the same cohesiveness that their full-length, “Whenever, If Ever,” had. The EP flows, but each song is it’s own distinct being, where the tracks on their album all need each other to work. Still, spoken word alongside experimental emo makes for a very unique listen, like a sadder version of the Moody Blues’ “Knights in White Satin.” The World Is have already proven themselves to be one of the strangest, most difficult and original bands we have today, and “Broken Bodies” just extends this. This would probably never work for a full album, but it’s a consistent and consistently ambitious work, one that takes a few listens and aims for both the heart and the head.

Give them yr money and download it here.

If you like this, try: I don’t know, Pink Floyd? drugs?

-By Andrew McNally

Prawn – “Kingfisher”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Scud Running” “Absurd Walls”

Emo revivalists Prawn’s new album is full of light, airy and melodic songs that are often vague in tone but practiced in music. Though it has it’s weak moments, Prawn have been an uniquely line-teetering band for years, and “Kingfisher” only goes to continue it.

A Kingfisher is a bird. Specifically, a type of bright, distinct and goofy looking bird. One that has been known to eat fish. In many ways, a kingfisher is everything that Prawn is not. Prawn is vague and unassuming, at first. Their music isn’t showy, especially for emo. It’s rhythmic and often lucid, blending together into something that’s surprisingly pleasant. So a kingfisher makes sense, as the band spends the album threatening to be consumed by various existential forces (much like a fish getting swallowed up). It’s either ironic or totally fitting that Prawn have spent the last few years hanging out in the limelight of the emo revival. While some (Snowing, teen suicide) made news with almost immediate breakups, and some (TWIABPAIANLATD, the Front Bottoms) strain themselves to make something jarring and original, Prawn have been building their own blend of guitar rhythms and aligning melodies that’s more soothing than it is jarring – something that isn’t designed to make as immediate of an impact at first.

And “Kingfisher” is certainly filled with those interesting melodies. The album starts and ends with strings, that fall away for the eight songs in between. And the album does dissolve into straight rock – happening infrequently enough that it’s a surprise each time. Loopy guitar rhythms are big in emo these days, but Prawn bring it up a notch by relying equally on melodies that are either very repetitive or different throughout. “Prolonged Exposure” is a guitar-heavy track that emphasizes this, as is “Absurd Walls,” where twin guitar rhythms compete in the background, one giving way to sounding like a siren. Prawn have learned to embrace both slower, ambient songs, and louder, rocking ones, and hit every notch in between on “Kingfisher.”

On a lyrical note, the album does get kind of frustratingly vague. It’s filled with typically deep, sad, statements, often opting for philosophical questions about some hypothetical, impending disasters rather than any direct and reflective poetry. Sometimes, like on “Glass, Irony” it can work, with the line “It’s hard to hide in dire straits” shoved to the forefront of the song. Other times, like on “Thalassa,” it gets clunky. “I’m glad you found clarity in ambiguity” is repeated a few times at the song’s climax, a line that doesn’t exactly sound fresh. Some of the songs could’ve used some clarity themselves.

But “Kingfisher” is still a very strong release, one that’s both pleasant and devastating. Prawn are at the top of their game and, even if the top of their game is positioned in the genre’s background, then it’s what they’ve learned to excel in. At times sweet, at times sour, “Kingfisher” is just as good as we’ve come to expect from Prawn.

“Kingfisher” is out tomorrow, 8/12, on Topshelf Records.

You Blew It! – “You Blue It”

Grade: A-

Key Track: “Surf Wax America”

The never-ending and ultimately inane debate about Weezer’s place in 90’s emo has been revived again, with Weezer’s influence on hybrid emo/pop-punk seen heavily in the past few years. So it only makes sense for a band like You Blew It! to do a series of Weezer covers. The band, right on the heels of their excellent sophomore album “Keep Doing What You’re Doing,” embody Weezer’s amped-up style of lovable-but-lonely fuzz-rock. The five songs they cover, all from Weezer’s legendary debut, are less covers and more progressions, showing how much Weezer really has influenced today’s emo.

The purpose of this EP wasn’t notoriety, the band stayed away from the Blue Album’s most recognizable songs – “Buddy Holly,” “Say It Ain’t So,” and “Undone” – in favor for some deeper cuts. “My Name is Jonas” and “Surf Wax America” are still recognized songs, but less so, and “In the Garage,” “Only In Dreams” and B-side “Susanne” are still somehow deep cuts. You Blew It! keep the songs mostly intact, preserving their integrity instead of flashing them up in any way.
“In the Garage” kicks the EP off, and it actually lacks the energy that the original boasts, as the band takes a more lackluster approach – either a reflection of emo’s slow draining of energy, or just a build up into the more accurate cover of “My Name is Jonas.” They keep the song almost as it is originally, as they probably should, adding only some reverb at the end.

“Only In Dreams” gets drastically shortened and moved to the midpoint, although it still serves as the longest song (as did the original version). “Surf Wax America” is probably the EP’s best song, with the band changing up the opening riff into a more emo-friendly rhythm before launching into a cover with just as much energy and guitar as the original. “Susanne,” meanwhile, is presented as a low-key acoustic track with a more lo-fi sound.

You Blew It!’s adherence to Weezer’s original, largely simple songs is reflective of a band honoring their influences instead of trying to overcome them. Weezer’s Blue Album has stood against time – we’re all still listening to it like it’s our first time. The Blue Album, whether Weezer was trying to or not, laid a template for pop-punk today, and You Blew It! is just the band to watch their throne. “You Blue It” is more about reflecting the progress of emo than it is about either band, showing how it’s evolved in form, and how it hasn’t really actually evolved at all. These are five reliable homages, as one band in their prime honors another from theirs.

-By Andrew McNally