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

A Great Big Pile of Leaves – “You’re Always on my Mind”

(Photo Credit: Top Shelf Records)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Pet Mouse,” “Fun in the Sun”

A Great Big Pile of Leaves hit a high on their 2010 debut, “Have You Seen My Prefontal Cortex?” The band established themselves as a fun, alt-pop band that hold up remarkably well against their sadder labelmates like Snowing and Pianos Become the Teeth. Their music is fun, bouncy and often completely innocent while maintaining a steady volume and guitar attacks. Their debut is a pleasantly diverse album, sonically pleasing, full of fun and introspective tracks. Their second album, “You’re Always on my Mind,” out today, does not quite live up to the expectations set up by “Cortex.” The album is more reminiscent of their earlier EP’s, which are still bouncy guitar songs, but feel a little less inspired than their debut album.

The album’s summer release date is no accident. This is definitely a summer album. That might give the expectation of a Yellowcard or Cartel type pop-punk thing, but they are much more associated with alternative than most summer bands. The album’s food-based bookends are called “Snack Attack” and “Pizzanomics,” offering the exact sound you’d expect from the humorous titles. “Back to School” is the most summer-y song on the album, a literal ode to summer before having to go back to school. There is a gleeful tone to the album, a carefree sound that are reminders of good times, even if they’re in the past. The band does not seem to be looking for any sort of validation, or to be taken seriously. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t – they’re talented musicians and have nailed down the art of fun songwriting. But their lack of seriousness adds to the fun on the album.

The album might not be as good as its predecessor, but it is still a good album. It is easy music to put on during a drive or a nice summer bike ride. It does not demand your patience, even your attention. It does its job as innocent alt-pop, providing an alternative to the usual pop on the radio and to the usual gloom of alternative music. It takes the best of both worlds. It might not be perfect, but it is fun.

If you like this, try: “Dig Up Your Dead” by Mansions (2011). Not as fun and not as good, but the band does sound kind of similar.

-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