With fifth-gear intensity and whiplash musicality, High Dive melds the world of queer punk politics with biographic narratives that feel poignant as salad days-era Jawbreaker, when the band’s pen felt like picture-perfect haikus of twenty-something angst and beatnik heart-on-the-sleeve tendencies. On its new self-titled album, High Dive feels pregnant with such potential and packs this album with equal parts punch, purpose, smarts, suss, and storytelling.
Originally hailing from Chicago but now settled in nearby small college town Bloomington, Indiana, High Dive channels a rich sense of legacy, including Windy City bands like Alkaline Trio, Smoking Popes, and Lawrence Arms, all of which paved pop-punk trademark fare brimming with acrobatic musical prowess and emotional tenderness. Still, High Dive doesn’t merely dwell in that template: it forge a righteous imagination and stalwart punk ethos all its own, marked by being sexual outsiders in the Protestant heartland.
“Thank You” is literally a raggedy Hallmark card, an ode to friends that make “this place worth livin’ in”. Luckily, the tune doesn’t smack of smarmy social networks; instead, it centers on endearment and evocation, a nod to the honest bonds that make resettlement possible, so people don’t jeopardize kinship and camaraderie. The brittle pace and scattered hectic drumming provide verve and vivacity, an aural backdrop brimming with seize-the-day pulses.
Imbued with off-key melodic musing, a broad musical platter, and detail-rich prose, “Restless” borrows from the eclectic Weakerthans. Never waxing too burdensome about lone star tattoos, restless broken hearts, and picking up the pieces of a 16-year-old heart, the song re-imagines a John Hughes film for post-hardcore queer kids with a knack for angular guitar chords and confessional spouting.
“I and You and We” is a tumbling blitz of fast-paced, concussive tuneage that attacks assured “certain comfort” and stability that soon comes apart at the seams. It’s rushed, riotous, and tightly terse, a nod to two chords and the truth. “Clean” is aptly intelligent as well and paints a picture of easy rebellion in parking lots that eventually leads to weaker stomachs as men mature and often fall prey to a “culture that consumes” and forces one to “unlearn . . . to become clean.” It’s a piercing lyrical stab at hegemony and dominant culture, without trumpeting signage like Occupy Youth Culture.
“Tennessee” is a true opus. Mending the lyrical rigor of queer-edge band Limp Wrist with the candid territory of author Gary Indiana, it recounts gay sexual interludes in libraries, grocery stores, playgrounds, and parents’ basements, exploring a large canvas of queer survival and pride, patience and puncturing wounds. It is far more penetrating and punctilious than their rather lean and underwhelming version of “I Think We’re Alone Now”, an original hit by fluffy 1960s psychedelic act Tommy James and the Shondells that was previously mustered more mightily by British modern punks Snuff in the 1990s.
Luckily, plenty of other tracks provide reasons to tune in, like the jabbing short cut “Hi, How Are You?” (hmm, a nod to visionary outsider Texas artist and musician Daniel Johnston, whose website features the same title?), which uses micro-fiction tendencies aided by early Minutemen-like musical precision. “Sincerity” heads back to pop-punk sincerity, though they keep the heat on “culture so crushing” that it wears and tears with disconcerting power. Luckily, as the song suggests, “hearts beating in time” can overcome odds, and clasped hands can keep people from falling prey to cynicism.
“A Season” perhaps sums up the album’s promise best. As a medium-paced, harmony-laden nugget, it tells the tale of immigration to small town America, where ex-urban adults seek comfort and satisfaction, led by the gods of “backyards and basements and backseats”. It demonstrates the tentative stage of adulthood, when one hopes to balance the hopes and pleasures of youth—confusing as they were—with a will to create long-lasting partnerships and some kind of peace, duct-taped as it may be, in the modern social-economic reality.
I don’t expect listeners to fawn endlessly about the didacticness of High Dive or its musical merits, but I do suspect that even those who shun identity-politics might feel compelled to see the band’s human quirks and resilience inspiring, just as the music weaves well-trodden but still shimmering pathways.