Grammer – “Awesome Knifes”

(Photo Credit: bandcamp)

Grade: A-

Key Track: “Quit (Your Job)”

“Twinkly emo” is a terrible name for a genre, but it’s impossible to ignore the almost meteoric rise of emo’s fourth-wave. (It’s practically founded this blog). Fourth-wave emo has risen like drug rock did in 1967, thanks largely to now-defunct bands Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader channeling Midwestern second-wave bands. Since then, pop-punk and punk bands like the Menzingers, Dads and Modern Baseball have fallen inline with the genre, as have more creative bands like the collective The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s discordant six minute songs about volcanoes. But bands like Grammer – properly from the Midwest – invoke a simpler, 2011 sound that’s somehow now a throwback to a throwback.

Grammer’s debut EP is five songs and roughly thirteen minutes, and really feels like the EP’s of the subgenre’s two origin bands. All five songs are midtempo and are grounded by those (ugh) twinkly guitar rhythms that dominated pretty much every song Snowing ever recorded. Opening track “Astronaww, Man” even sounds a little like Snowing. They seem to channel a few different specific influences throughout the EP. “Coy Wolf” matches Algernon Cadwallader in it’s harsh vocals ugly pairing over clean riffs. “Quit (Your Job)” sounds a little like Dads, with more of a chord-based punk sound. But this isn’t copying predecessors, because Grammer have their own sound. They’re a little grittier, and their lyrics about childhood and life eschew complaining for apathy.

The people in Grammer – Maxx on vocals, Dakota and Miles on guitar, Grady on bass, and Alex on drums, are good musicians and songwriters. This EP fits nicely into the ever-increasing qualifications of fourth-wave emo, without sounding like it’s trying to. It hints at indie and punk, and hints at some emotions and lyrics thematically different than most emo bands. And there are surprises – like the great false ending to “Cigarette Regimen.” “Emo” has become an umbrella term over the last year, for any sort of sad, poetic, relatable, twinkly, fast, slow, loud, soft combination desirable. Grammer are more straightforward than most, and “Awesome Knifes” is a promising EP for a proper, no-frills, Midwestern group.

The EP is available for stream and downloading here.

If you like this, try: It should be obvious here that I’ll mention one of two bands. So try any releases by Snowing, if for some reason you haven’t already.

Dads – “Pretty Good”

(Photo Credit: best-vinyl.blogspot.com)

Grade: B

Dads, a wonderfully fast and gleefully sad duo from New Jersey, have been looking to shed their emo background. In March they were crowned the best emo band ever in Property of Zack’s March Sadness competition (probably in part to being the only band interested in the competition and encouraging their fanbase to vote). But the emo branding bears some weights, as the word ’emo’ brings more bad bands to mind than good ones. So the duo hopes to change that on their new four track EP, “Pretty Good.” It yearns for their emo-leaning work, but for a band attempting outreaches, it succeeds.

The opening track, “My Crass Patch,” is easily the EP’s best. The song is vocally similar to their previous works, but feels heavier and angrier. It sets the transition off on the right foot, sending a different message than the carefree-yet-miserable feel of their 2012 album, “American Radass (This Is Important).” The second track, “Can I Be Yr Deadbeat Boyfriend?” continues with the heavy feel, and adds a little punk inspiration throughout it’s very short run. It is the most reminiscent of their older music, sounding similar to the heavily-intro blasts like “Groin Twerk” and “Grunt Work,” while still sounding more purposeful.

The third song, “Boat Rich,” sounds terrible out of context of the album. Taken for what it is, the song sounds like a cornier (dare I say, more ‘radio-friendly’) version of “Let’s Go to the Beach!” from ‘Radass.’ But on the album, its lighter tone makes for a break from the heavy nature of the first two tracks. It also allows for the band to show that their branching out leads in both directions. This is further emphasized on the final track, “No We’re Not Actually,” a five minute slow burner.

“Pretty Good” lives up to it’s title. For a transition work, it is successful. But Dads only have two albums under their belt – their decent “Brush Your Teeth Again ;)” and the utterly perfect ‘Radass,’ and it is kind of a shame to see them leaving the genre so soon. I was hoping for one or two more of their lo-fi, emo pleasures before they branched out. Ultimately, it’s their decision, and they can’t be blamed for wanting to escape from the ‘twinkly’ emo before they’re sucked in and unfairly lumped in with worse bands. Let’s hope they can master these transitions as well as they can emo. For what it’s worth, I saw Dads play in Amityville, New York, and for two guys with limited time and a bad venue, they were phenomenal.

If you like this, try: “Where Were You While We Were Getting High?” by One Hundred Year Ocean, an emo EP by a band comprised of some members of recent Dads tourmates The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. I have also reviewed The World Is’ recent debut, as well as the debut from Pity Sex, who were also on the bill. I’m a fan of Topshelf Records and their offshoots.

-By Andrew McNally

One Hundred Year Ocean – “Where Were You While We Were Getting High?”

Photo Credit: Bandcamp

Grade: B+

A four-track EP from the six-piece collective One Hundred Year Ocean moderately resembles the growing band that includes some of the same members, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. The four tracks on this EP are more consistent in tone, but bare resemblance to the great emo band.

It is tough to really establish an idea across only four tracks, so nothing is overly fleshed out. But there is a distinct sense that the band is toying with song structures. The build-ups that are frequent among similar-sounding bands are present, just not at the usual points in the songs. There is a feeling that the music, just like the music of The World Is…, is not based on songs but one large idea, and the songs are just fragments of it.

The volume is steady on the album, as the verses seem to fit in with typical structures. So the band seems to operate as a bridge between standard music and the experimental and drawn-out sound of The World Is…, combining elements of both. There is a slight humorous edge to the band, too, evident in the title of the EP and on the song title “Soco Amaretto Bud Light Lime” (a take on Brand New’s “Soco Amaretto Lime”) and in the darkly catchy lyrics of opener “Hospital Town.” It is difficult to expand an EP into something great, but One Hundred Year Ocean is doing a pretty unique thing. It is distinctly emo-based, with elements of punk and a little room for experimentation.

If you like this, try: “Whenever, If Ever” by the aforementioned The World Is… (just released last month, scroll down only a little ways for a review)

Veenstra – “Six Months of Death”

Photo Credit: Bandcamp.com

Photo Credit: Bandcamp.com

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “A Bear/A Fire/A Cave,” “Stone Burial”

Francois Veenstra, a solo musician from Brazil, is in the midst of an existentially lo-fi trilogy. His second album, “Six Months of Death,” was recorded like his debut, in an ultimate lo-fi setting: a bedroom, alone, with a handheld recorder. The album’s title sets the existential tone and states that the album is going to be no less introspective than his previous effort, “Journey to the Sea”. The first album in the series saw a protagonist following a river to the sea. “Six Months of Death” follows this protagonist as he finds the sea and begins to wander aimlessly, realizing the pointlessness of his previous adventure.

Musically, the protagonist’s existential pains are felt through winding, quiet music, all recorded by Veenstra. The songs are more like movements, building up or winding down at unexpected points. The transitions between songs feel more like thought breaks than song breaks – which is good, as it implies that the album works well as a whole. His vocals are tough to decipher, but they only show up sometimes, as the whole entity of the album seems to encompass this character and his travels. The album is experimental lo-fi alternative stuff, often quiet but getting the point across. Veenstra is a pretty decent musician, commandeering drums and bass just when the muted guitar begins to get a little slow. It is certainly quiet and toned-down, so lo-fi fans take notice. I’m curious what will happen to the protagonist next.

Veenstra’s albums can be found on Bandcamp, and he runs the blog Beings Being.

If you like this, try: “Whenever, If Ever” by The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, the previous review before this one.

-By Andrew McNally

The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Whenever, If Ever”

Photo  Credit: Top Shelf Records

Photo Credit: Top Shelf Records

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay,” “You Will Never Go To Space,” “Ultimate Steve”

The band trying to claim their prize for current longest name have released their full-length debut on the glorious Top Shelf Records. The band – often abbreviated, or called “The World Is” for short – is a six-piece from Connecticut. They differ from Top Shelf’s normal bands, who fall under the umbrella term of ‘modern emo’ (here’s looking at you, Snowing). They are definitely a modern emo band, but one that is even more original than their label-mates. Their first EP’s, “Formlessness” and “Josh Is Dead,” were four and three tracks, respectively. But in those three tracks the band established themselves as one that was not afraid to play around with lo-fi influences that can also include group choruses and screaming intensity.

Those previous EP’s showed that The World Is was not afraid of recording a quiet and toned-down piece that builds to a big and loud payoff later on the album. While bands will often do this in a song (think: nearly every Sonic Youth song), The World Is does it as arcs. Two songs might be separate ideas that contribute to a booming climax a song later. It’s all very unique and often very wrenching. Their first full-length, though, suffers from too much build-up and not enough pay-off.

That is not to say the album is not good. It’s great, it’s absolutely great. Even in it’s outwardly subdued moments, the band can easily create an uneasy feeling, a sense that something is not right. They competently do this in every one of the album’s ten songs. This is what emo sounds like now, inspired equally by shoegaze, experimentation, other current emo bands, and probably suburban CT life. The World Is is one of my favorite bands out there now, they’re pioneering a wholly new sound. “Whenever, If Ever” just needs one or two more pay-offs of screaming vocals to separate the quiet moments. Still, this album is unique. It has its faults, but it is extraordinarily original. And at the end of the day, a band making some faulty quests into new territory is largely better than one sticking around in familiar territory.

If you like this, try: Their old EP’s, mentioned above. All are available on Spotify and Bandcamp. Alternately, “Fun” by Algernon Cadwallader or “I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted” by Snowing. Check out every band on Top Shelf Records, if you’re truly interested.

-By Andrew McNally