Fronting a band that personified all of emo’s stereotypes must have been incredibly frustrating. Considering his former band’s adorable name and adorable album titles, plus his appearance on the Jimmy Eat World record that expanded their fan base to pre-pubescent teenage girls, former Promise Ring singer Davey von Bohlen must get a little tense at any mention of his previous band. Even though they were one of the most adventurous and talented of the late-90’s emo bands.
Frustrating, as it must be, it is impossible to hear Maritime’s third record, Heresy & the Hotel Choir, without the ghosts of the Promise Ring haunting your ears. Especially considering the record sounds just like the lost Promise Ring record: the one between Very Emergency and Wood/Water. This record would have been the bridge to get from the former’s perkiness to the latter’s sleepiness. What Heresy does best is take the caffeine from the carbonated melodies of Very Emergency. von Bohlen is no longer sprinting to the chorus, though he’s not letting it lazily drift by either, as he did on Wood/Water. Take “Aren’t We All Found Out” as an example: right at the point where you think the song’s content to steadily bounce along, he pulls out an entirely unexpected and completely satisfying chorus. The same can be said for “For Science Fiction,” which has a chorus that doesn’t take you by surprise so much as it takes you to the rafters.
Although, sonically, Heresy fits very comfortably between the Promise Ring’s final two records, the substance of von Bohlen’s lyrics set this record vastly apart from anything written during his former band’s career. The plaintive “First Night on Earth” and the monochromatic “Peril,” both ponder existential questions, showing that he has much larger topics on his mind these days then simply “getting busy.”
Perhaps it’s unavoidable. Fronting a band that defined emo leaves a lasting impression on Davey von Bohlen, regardless of the quality of his current band. Whether that impression is a stigma or not, depends on your perspective. If it happens to be a stigma though, it’s a shame—you’re missing out on a very solid record.
(Flame Shovel Records)
Tennis System – Lovesick
This is furious noise
It is impossible to read music that taps into the shoegaze lineage without finding mention of My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain. While the aforementioned bands are certainly the epicentre of the genre, bands like Los Angeles’ Tennis System aren’t all too interested in being just another page in the Kevin Shields songbook. Unlike the genre’s progenitors, Tennis System only graze the often plodding, overly moribund nature of shoegaze, and instead find more inspiration from uptempo punk urgency. Lovesick, their third album, is a culmination of what the band call their “putting it all on the line” mentality, wrapped in fuzzed-out, loud guitars, breezy percussion work and that ‘let’s go’ punk attitude.
Songs like “Alone” and “Esoteric” come cut from the same mold that crafted early emo band Cap N’ Jazz; manic, loud, frenzied, while opener “Shelf Life” digs deep into the fuzzy, distorted heaven of Jawbox meets Burning Airlines. The song itself feverish sudden changes, one that mimics what vocalist/guitarist Matty Taylor told Flood Magazine about the song’s “journey of realization, denial, and finally acting upon things”. It’s true then that songs on Lovesick owe more to J. Robbins than Kevin Shields, but it is not to say the album is not without its more shoegaze moments. It’s the moodier soundscapes of “Cologne” and almost whispering “Fall” that paint from that brush.
The album’s strongest outing is the terrific “Turn”. It is a song that is a well constructed effort combining early emo and elements of shoegaze with the furious noise of guitar powered alternative/punk, packing together all the best qualities of the band in alluring freneticism.
As the title track closes proceedings, the listener is left with a sense of aural delight that came with albums like Loveless, or Trail of Dead’s brilliant Source Tags & Codes. It doesn’t mean to say Lovesick is a trailblazing record, but what it does mean is that the album’s tightly wound energy and furiousness explodes in euphoric delight- even if it is temporary. In the song “Lovesick”, Taylor sings, “please don’t let me burn out”… and perhaps, with this much aural euphoria, it is inevitable. But as the saying goes, “it’s better to burn out…”
Pom Pom Squad – Ow EP
The latest EP by this Brooklyn four-piece is beautiful vulnerability
Brooklyn “quiet grrl” band Pom Pom Squad may have a cute moniker and description of their sound, but like their riot grrl brethren that it comes from, it’s anything but tame. Pom Pom Squad is a four-piece led by vocalist and songwriter Mia Berrin, who on their second EP, have taken the twinkly sounds of Rilo Kiley and Mitski and injected it with the grungy, manic energy of Hole and Bif Naked and the distorted, punk urgency of Bratmobile.
Ow stands out from the opening “Ow (Intro)”, a song of delicate heartbreak that is both pensive and biting. It’s mostly just Berrin and her guitar, sparkling in a glow of Midwestern emo-esque strings and her voice. The song is beautifully wistful when it sings “he says he wants what’s best for me” and biting when it comes back and says “they all say they want what’s best for me / but they never try to be the best for me”. It’s from this you hear the strength of the EP; that when it gets a little brooding, melancholy, pained, it’s also gorgeous, vulnerable and definitely unafraid to show the listener honesty and character.
In songs like “Heavy Heavy” and “Honeysuckle”, Pom Pom Squad get a little dirtier, a little grungier, amping up the distortion and sludgier percussion work. The hazy bellowing of “Heavy Heavy” adds to the angry introspection of the song; its lines of “It’s getting heavy heavy / Telling everybody that I’m fine / I’m feeling heavy heavy does it mean / I wanna fucking die?” painted by lusciously loud guitar work that would make Steve Albini smile. “Honeysuckle” takes on a similar pained look inside the mind but with a more fuzzed-out, alternative-rock veneer. Berrin’s lyrics come across as vividly as she sings “If I’m nothing without you am I anything at all?” It’s songs like these, with words like these, that hint of comparisons between Pom Pom Squad’s captivating allure with that of Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland during their heydey.
“Cherry Blossom” taps into that beautiful sorrow again, plugging into the aura that is painted when it is just Berrin and her guitar again. It’s almost hypnotic at times, and just as quickly as the tension and the magnetism builds, it ends. The anger of the album works because unlike angst, it’s calculated and targeted, leaving Ow as much of a substantial outing as it is growth from their 2018 EP Hate It Here. The only real downside to Ow are some moments like on the closing notes of “Cut My Hair”- a song that builds up to its crescendo with more dazzling vulnerability but ends a little quicker than it ought to. In truth, that’s the only real con of the EP, that when the orchestral fade-out of “Owtro” howls away, you’re left searching for more, with only repeated listens as your respite. But in the end, what could be better for an artist you’ve recently discovered than to get under your skin and leave you wanting more?