[10 February 2014]
Emo and punk rock have enjoyed a resurgence of late.
It seems folks are remembering once again that nothing makes for more raw, emotive music than loud drums, loud guitars, loud bass, loud vocals and, well, I think you see my point. This third wave of emo (by my count, but who really keeps track of all this?) seems to be marked by more mature, introspective lyrics and musical influences from hardcore bands like A Day to Remember and Touche Amore.
That’s why Keep Doing What You’re Doing by You Blew It! is such a surprise. Sonically, it sounds exactly like a second wave emo record from the early 2000s. Swap Tanner Jones’ vocal for those of Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara and I’d believe you’d just handed me a collection of forgotten Tell All Your Friends b-sides. The multi-tracked harmonies, sparkling percussion and familiar, fuzzy guitar tones are a real throwback.
But the subtle improvements You Blew It! make on the formula means I’d rather be listening to Keep Doing What You’re Doing than a lot of records from back then.
Each song is simple, guitar-driven, and doesn’t dabble in theatrics. Rather than try to flourish too much, the band members move dynamically together in a satisfying up-and-down across the record. Lead guitar licks are concise and sharp, filling in the spaces between the lyrics as necessary.
Meanwhile, Jones’ singing style is a standout characteristic. He doesn’t seem to have to push his voice very hard to achieve the raspy, emo yell that’s essentially mandatory for this genre. That makes the band sound more comfortable and at ease than many of their peers.
Lyrically, too, this record is a huge deviation from the emo norm.
Poetic and almost highfalutin in places, You Blew It! shed the expected bitter lashing-out and address grievances more directly, and just as often the lyricist places blame with himself. Not even the passage of time is free from criticism, as on the brilliant “Rock Springs”: “Clearly today is missing the point / Cause it’s nowhere close to over.”
Meanwhile, “Strong Island” will break your heart with its lovelorn bridge, “If I had my way / I’d play video games with you every single f****** day.”
Most every emo rock staple is here, with a more modern and mature bent toward the poetic and picturesque. There’s less malice here than on, say, the latest Real Friends EP, and it suits them.
To my ear, something about the production feels off, though. Everything sounds a little one dimensional, nothing in particular ever pops out of the mix, and when the lead guitar and vocal lines are layered one over another, both lose clarity as a result. At the risk of again comparing You Blew It! to fellow emo-punk rockers and European tour mates Real Friends, the latter band’s record was just mastered better. When the vocals are struggling to stand out from the cacophony of guitars and drums, the hooks lose potency. Because the vocal can’t hold its own against the fuzz frenzy, Keep Doing What You’re Doing doesn’t feel like a sing-a-long, which is half the appeal of these angsty anthems.
Production gripes aside, Keep Doing What You’re Doing has captured powerfully the feelings associated with youth, growing up and learning to love that make emo such an affecting style of music. The real beauty in this record can be found in its lyrical nuggets of humanity, couched in bristling guitars that can drown out all else.
I mean, how can you not sympathize with something that says, as You Blew It! do on the album’s strong opener “Match & Tinder”, “I shouldn’t let this get to me / But I’m having trouble trying to find the right way / To say I feel less than confident”?