The Exploding Hearts: Guitar Romantic

Liam Colle

The Exploding Hearts

Guitar Romantic

Label: Dirtnap

I've written four f**king reviews for this album already. No matter what I try, it still ends up being the central point. I just can't write about Guitar Romantic without foregrounding the album's brilliance in the fact that, tragically, three of the members are dead. Yeah, on Sunday July 20, 2003, hardly a year after this fantastic release, frontman Adam Cox, drummer Jeremy Gage and bassist Matt Fitzgerald were killed in a car accident coming back from a show in San Francisco. So in this, the fifth edition, I'm abandoning journalistic detachment, and totally giving in to hindsight, grief and bitterness.

These guys were hardly in their twenties, just about to get signed to a bigger deal at Green Day's old label, Lookout! Records, and had just released a modern classic. Then they had to go and die. Straight away the names Valens, Hendrix, and Curtis come to mind, but unlike these unfortunates the Exploding Hearts didn't even get a taste. You could blame their unfulfilled promise on the current state of the industry, where great bands don't have a prayer against the Blinks and N*Syncs of the world. Outside of any indie-snobbery, nearly half of this album is just begging to get played on popular radio, stocked and ready with irresistible candy hits like "I'm A Pretender" and "Throwaway Style". Maybe the blame lies with Adam, Jeremy and Matt for not wearing their damn seatbelts. Along with guitarist Terry Six, their manager Rachelle Ramos was the only survivor and the only one in the van wearing a seatbelt. Or should we all cast our eyes to the sky and blame that big guy with the long white beard? As the Mole in the South Park movie questions: "Where is your god? Where is your beautiful, merciful faggot now?" Wherever your grievances may lie, the fact is, on the merits of these 10 songs alone, the Exploding Hearts could have been huge. Scratch that... should have been huge.

In a just world the Hearts would be pounding through ghettoblasters at grade 8 dances for years to come, providing a perfect soundtrack to the loves and losses of restless kids across the world. The songwriting on this album is that good, and these tunes exude a brazen honesty unheard in our too-cool age of irony and cynicism. There's no substantial reason why all those people who went bonkers over Is This It? shouldn't equally acclaim this work of jubilant angst. Maybe even more perplexing, where are all the people who lashed out at the Strokes for being a result of trust funds and a hype machine? It's as though the Exploding Hearts possess all that makes those NYC brats vital, and dispense with all the peripheral bulls**t. The stomping jangle of "Throwaway Style" even sounds like a sweatier, dirtier "Someday". Throughout the album, these kids from Portland repeatedly flirt with pop-punk genius. Some major would be wise to re-release Guitar Romantic and place a hot pink sticker right on the jewel case: "Another Rock 'n' Roll Tragedy: R.I.P The Bizarro-Strokes".

The Exploding Hearts' sound is uncompromisingly poppy, but gnashing and biting nonetheless. They combine the exuberance of the Britpop invasion with the gnarly attitude of '70s punk rock bands like The Buzzcocks and The Fleshtones. Their call-and-response, sing-along choruses and nifty riffing immediately crawls into that part of your brain that compels you to watch The Breakfast Club whenever it's on TV. It's an album that I've listened to frequently for almost two years but of which I have yet to get sick. How Guitar Romantic can be so catchy, yet resonate at the same time is a regular point of confusion for me. The passion of scrappy back-to-back tracks "Sleeping Aides and Razorblades" and "Rumours in Town" is immediately felt without being over-earnest. Featuring the Hearts trademark scraping guitars and cathartic lyrics, both songs clock in at about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The emotional economy on this album presents an aurally invigorating experience, translating the excitement of new crushes and shattering break-ups into mini pop anthems.

Well, another rock career cut terribly short. The tragedy of the Exploding Hearts epitomizes the caprice of art and youth. Too many times have music fans had to mourn their heroes prematurely. At least the Hearts have left us with the invaluable Guitar Romantic, an album that, ironically, synthesizes vitality and casualty so brilliantly. All that's left to do now is dance.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.