Is this it? Is this the monumental time? On a Brandtson release, of all things?
For years, critics have been juggling obscure and fun little buzzwords in attempts to classify various bands. Radiohead is “math-rock” for example. We live in an age of “alt-country” (Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo), crunk, and countless other genres that people would just as easy qualify as “rock” and “rap”. Then comes the most prized of sub-genre amendments: post. Radiohead is also very “post-rock” in the way that Interpol is “post-punk”. Are the Wiggles “post-children’s music”? No … they’re just children’s music.
Yet when rock’s whiny mascara-wearing little brother named Emo walked in the door, the landscape changed. Lyrics took on a poetry that’s heightened to the point of ridiculousness, and not since the days of glam has image become oh-so-very important. Fall Out Boy begets countless imitators, much as how Blink-182 paved the commercial road for Good Charlotte, Sum 41, and slew of other bands who you have most likely forgotten. One of them is probably Brandtson, a small group that released above-average emo for years on end, sustaining a decent following but never making a huge mark on the genre. Yet, in the summer of 2005, long-time bassist John Sayre left the band. Instead of continuing on as a trio, or just hiring a bassist to do the exact same things, the rockers brought on Adam Boose, a guy who could play bass, but was more interested in keyboard contributions. The band decided to move into a new direction, and, with the release of Hello, Control, it seems like it might be the first release that could garner that long-awaited, and much sought after, label of “post-emo”.
But not quite ... they come damn close though. Instead of releasing another batch of whine-by-numbers rock (like any band in a similar position would do), Brandtson embraced all pop elements (deciding that the ‘80s was the greatest decade in the world and Depeche Mode its greatest band) and released what may be the first emo record where the keyboards are more prominent than the guitars in every song. At its core, it’s a run-of-the-mill Brandtson record, but it’s presented with such wide-eyed techno wonder you can’t help but feel it creep into your skin a little more than it should. And most importantly, it feels like a lot of fun.
Opening with the Eno-styled soundscapes of “A Thousand Years”, Myk Porter’s everyman singing style is placed as a sonic centerpiece, making lyrics about what people in the future will remember us as all the more gripping. The unabashed pop-rock of “Earthquakes & Shakes” wouldn’t feel out of place on a Collective Soul record, lyrics less relying on shattered tears in your mirrored heart and more on painting a great road-trip story to Mexico. To top it off, “Denim Iniquity” sounds like some strange lovechild of both Franz Ferdinand and Orgy — few albums feature treats like that. It’s like Brandtson forgot it’s an emo band. It isn’t frustrating, it’s absolutely refreshing.
Though Brandtson is set up for a homerun, it falls just a few feet short of conquering the green monster of rock clichés. “Tapping the Vain” is exhilarating despite it’s horrible pun of a title, and the out-of-nowhere synth breakdown in the middle is a pleasant surprise, but lyrics like “I leaned in for a kiss / that’s when you said I can’t do this / and just walked, walked away” seem destined for some other lesser album ... not this one. Few other songs break into the fun and memorable turns of phrase like “Earthquakes & Shakes”, which is a shame, considering the musical ambition surrounding them. “Nobody Dances Anymore” could have been a solid club hit if not for being weighed down in its own sense of seriousness, and “Lie to Me” is a rehashing of better lyricists with fresher ideas.
Yet these flaws are passable when you come across top-notch robot-rock like “Friend or Faux?” or the excellent “Here We Go”. This could have been a monumental moment in emo, but the opportunity gets squandered by a band focusing more on the presentation than the substance. Even if it fails in the quest to break a new subgenre, it’s a spectacular failure: the kind you’ll listen to and still have a lot of fun with. A thousand years from now, people will say that this is Brandtson’s greatest album … and those people will be right.