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?
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.