Tullycraft are a clever bunch, and they know it. They’ve been pumping out snarky pop tunes for years now, and with Every Scene Needs a Center, they show no signs of playing it straight. Their songs are as self-referential and nose-in-the-air as ever, but they often bail themselves out of sounding like scenester snobs by simply having fun. The band are masters of twee-pop, but what makes their brand particularly exciting is their ability to bolster the twee with some rock band muscle.
Opener “The Punks are Writing Love Songs” is as cute and clever as anything to be found on the record, but what makes it so impressive is that, well, it sounds like some really good punk. The fey vocals aside, it could be a Buzzcocks outtake. The song also establishes a theme running through the record. Every Scene Needs a Center often takes aim at moments when scenes break down. The references to love-lorn punks and “heavy metal heartbreak” early in the record illuminate scenes that have lost their way. If the punk or heavy metal ideology doesn’t have room for love songs, as Tullycraft seems to imply, then the move in those genres to love songs is a false one.
They call out whoever they can as the record moves on, usually taking aim at one sort of pretension or another. It borders on problematic occasionally since, as the songs begin to pile up, their delivery sounds more and more like schtick. It becomes difficult for the band to believably call out anyone else for pretending, when it becomes clear they are pretending themselves. The album is delivered with a wink and a grin—they borrow lyrics from a Lindsay Lohan track on “Dracula Screams of Tiger Style (Parts 1 and 2)”—and with little sincerity to be found, the songs start to sound a little whiny.
Of course, the layers of irony are laid on thick here, and it becomes difficult to determine how serious they are being with their allegations. In the end, what makes that question moot—and the album a lot more successful—are its smaller, more earnest moments. “The Lonely Life of the UFO Researcher” is as overdone as its title suggests, but instead of making the title character the butt of a joke, the quietest song on this record reveals a true loneliness that is too affecting to not be true. It is a moment honest enough to make you reconsider the rest of the album.
And when you do, you can hear a celebration behind many of these songs. Tullycraft seems excited to hear punks writing love songs. Maybe they’re excited because they have something to make fun of, but they could also be excited because the guise of scene is falling. When we all start singing the same songs—about that girl or that guy—we start to relate to each other in a way the busts down borders between scenes, demographics, geography, whatever restraint we put around ourselves. And, in the end, Every Scene Needs a Center is celebrating that sort of coming together.
Or maybe it isn’t. It’s hard to tell. What makes the album frustrating, and ultimately successful, is that the listener has a hard time deciding exactly what to make of it. Is it an album of scenester snark? Of overly clever, self-reflexive pop? Of an earnest desire for the blurring of borders between scenes? Of doe-eyed celebration of heartache in all its variations?
It could be all these things, or none of them, or a mix-and-match of themes. And what you make of it will change from one listen to the next. But one thing is for sure: While you’re listening to this over and over again, trying to figure out what the hell Tullycraft is about, you’ll have a lot of fun with their rocking indie pop. Even if you’re never sure if you’re in on the joke. Or if there’s a joke to begin with.