The ever-popular Get Up Kids play power-pop with punkish tones and a populist, crowd-pleasing bent. They rock for the people, to get the kids jumping around and having a good time. They’re not necessarily the most original band, with a sound noticeably familiar to fans of Superchunk or Weezer, but a lot of fun. Take away the rock conventions, though, and you find not a hollow shell but pretty little pop songs, about love, goodbyes, and the other sort of things that heartwrenching rock is all about.
The New Amsterdams’ debut CD Never You Mind sounds a lot like what you might get if stripped the Get Up Kids music down to its pop essentials. That’s not the mark of coincidence or influence, but genealogy: the New Amsterdams’ main man is Matt Pryor of the Get Up Kids, and another Kid shows up as one of the three musicians that make up the rest of the Amsterdams.
Never You Mind is a sparse, quiet album made up of relatively sad but sweet songs buoyed with (medlodies) and a truckload of pure feeling. A couple songs bear the same influences you might expect given the history (especially “McShame,” a quick Weezer-ish blast), but most of the songs have an entirely different musical face, if a similar sense of passion. There’s a lot of energy throughout, it’s just propelled inwardly instead of toward an audience. Ballads like “Goodbye” and “I Won’t Run Away” exquisitely project yearning against a background of mostly acoustic guitar, as Pryor sings his heart out. “Idaho” is one of my favorites, a lush ballad, complete with organ and nicely balanced harmony vocals. There’s also two covers, the Afghan Whig’s “When We Two Parted” and Boilermaker’s “Slow Down”; both are performed with the same sense of musical sparseness and emotional longing as the rest of the album.
On the whole, the New Amsterdams have delivered a musical tear-stained letter. Yet it isn’t the sound of depression or wallowing but catharsis, letting it all go. The final track, “I Won’t Run Away” is a heartwrenching almost-goodbye, one of those musically naked moments where you can hear fingers scraping guitar strings and every rasp in Pryor’s voice. Yet it ends on a note of resigned peace: “I’ll wait for the world to stop and I won’t run away…at least not today.” This whole album is like that. It’s filled with both the articulation of hidden feeling and the adjustment that comes with that emotional release, the state of calm that can come from finally saying what you’ve been wanting to say for years.
“Emo,” a tag the Get Up Kids tend to get saddled with, is pretty meaningless to me as far as descriptors go. The New Amsterdams don’t fit in that genre as far as it’s used musically/historically, yet their album is as heartfelt and moving as pop music gets, a genuine expression of emotion in song.