Never heard of Last Days of April? Well, me either, until I got their new album, Angel Youth in the mail the other day. The Stockholm, Sweden band is making a rise in the United States indie scene. After touring in Europe with the likes of At the Drive In and the Promise Ring, and getting distributed by American label Deep Elm, they’re becoming more recognized in the United States.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always skeptical of bands that have been classified as emo, as Last Days of April has. I mean, what defines emo music anyway? The term has been used liberally, to the point that it really has no concrete meaning. From what I’ve observed music is called emo because of the way it projects emotion. The similar characteristics of bands labeled emo seem to include a somewhat distraught, uncontrolled and innocent sounding lead vocal part. The singer is usually ranting about bitter breakups and lost youth. The music has what may be described as a poppy-punk edge to it (ala late ‘90s commercial “punk”), but is often combined with sweet melodies. In Last Days of April’s case this means string interludes.
Now that I’ve let you know my skepticism about emo music, I’ll let you know that Last Days of April is certainly better than much of the emo I’ve heard. I wouldn’t say it ranks up there with Rainer Maria or Dashboard Confessional, but the sound they create is not merely stereotypical emo.
The album was obviously well produced (by Fireside’s Pelle Gunnerfeildt), and maybe that’s a flaw. Over-production seems to contradict the whole idea of raw emotion that is supposed to come out in emo. But, the production isn’t too much of a hindrance. Beautiful orchestrations of strings hover above and then suddenly sweep into the melody. Guitar and voice parts are filtered to create intricate atmospheres.
One word that characterizes the album in entirety is energy. The band knows how to keep the momentum going throughout the recording. It’s that kind of momentum that makes terrible ‘80s songs actually seem fun. These songs recreate the feeling of when I was a kid and I spun around and around until I couldn’t anymore and flopped to the ground. That’s the kind of momentum many of the songs have.
Perhaps the best illustration of this is the song “Aspirins and Alcohol”. Destined to be the most-played song by the band, it really is the best. The song starts with a repetitive driven guitar and classic emo voice. The song quickly interludes to a chorus of strings and then the beat speeds up to pick up the momentum again. This song is oozing with young passion, which can also be illustrated by the lyrics, in which the chorus is: “Will aspirins and alcohol some way decrease the ache from knowing that you will do to him the same you did to me?” The whole song is written in freeform prose with no defined breaks, which creates a feel of both chaos and sloppy youth.
Another song with similar momentum is “Two Hands and Ten Fingers”. This one however seems more melancholic. The song begins in a minor key, violins weep and strain to high notes as the cello and bass morn in deep resonant tones. The drum line is always there to keep the song pacing forward. Lead singer Karl Larsson belts out the lyrics—“It seems like it all comes crashing you will not hurt me no more how can your two hands and ten fingers move nine planets?” The song doesn’t stay so bittersweet though. The chorus suddenly seems cheerful.
There are other good, solid songs on the album, but those two certainly stick out as the gems. If only for those two songs, Angel Youth is worth buying. Overall, the album is one catchy, orchestral emo recording. Not only do they use violins, cellos, violas and organ—they also use mandolin, harpsichord and accordion. The instrumentation is layered and intricate.
Though the whole album is decent, I find myself returning to “Aspirins and Alcohol” and “Two Hands and Ten Fingers”. These two songs have perfect pop hooks that rage with pure emotion. And, after listening to the album many times, it grows on me. For all those emo fans out there, Angel Youth is a sure investment. And for all those skeptics like me, it’s a good emo pick to add diversity to your collection.
// Notes from the Road
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