Spanish Love Songs' 'Schmaltz' Is Cathartic for Anyone Seeking Sanctuary From Life's Unpredictability
Spanish Love Songs channel life's struggle into 11 hook-filled indie-punk songs on Schmaltz.
Spanish Love Songs
23 March 2018
Spanish Love Songs' 2015 debut album, Giant Sings the Blues saw the LA-based band combine rousing pop-punk with the unflinching angst of frontman Dylan Slocum's lyrics as he detailed his struggles in the no-mans land of his mid-20s. A period when the promise of adolescence had started to turn sour, and life's responsibilities had become all too real.
New album Schmaltz sees Slocum now approaching his 30s and feeling older but not necessarily wiser and, if anything, more out of step with the punk "scene" than ever before. Not only is he no longer a young man in a young punk band anymore but he is also having to try to come to grips with the fact that, in life's journey, not everyone is going to stick around for the ride.
Musically, Schmaltz also finds the band at something of a crossroads. Too indie to be punk and too punk to be indie, they blend the earnest pop-punk of the Menzingers, the anthemic drive of the Gaslight Anthem with the engaging melancholy of Mountain Goats and the Weakerthans on a rousing but emotionally bruising album.
The opening to Schmaltz demonstrates that contrast perfectly as on skeletal opener "Nuevo", Slocum's vocals are framed by slowly swelling, Hammond organ before launching into the sharp, anthemic punk of "Sequels". Featuring spiky hooks, distinctive lead guitar lines, and a towering, full-bodied chorus, the music acts as a triumphant counterpoint to lyrics like "I don't wanna leave this couch / I don't wanna go to war."
"Bellyache" comes off like early Menzingers both musically and in the way, Slocum is unafraid to dig deep inside himself and examine the core. That results in deeply affecting lines such as, "No drug in the world / That could possibly wash this off." With guitars that ring rather than churn, the superb "Buffalo Buffalo", bounds to a delirious, anthemic chorus. Nevertheless, it is imbued with a general feeling of unease as Slocum tries to come to terms with the fact that it is impossible to keep everyone you love safe from harm.
Both "Otis-Carl" and "Joana, In Five Acts" directly address the loss of people close to Slocum. Achingly personal, they both find him articulating his grief by focusing on the subtle differences in the fabric of the day to day that follows a bereavement. They also see the band adding nuance to their core sound and, as a result, they are two of the most emotionally absorbing and musically powerful songs on the album.
"The Boy Considers His Haircut" finds Slocum gently poking fun at the more melancholy aspect of his lyric writing as he opens with the line, "My dad says I'd probably have more fans / If I could learn to sing about some happier shit." which is cleverly juxtaposed by the anthemic chorus line, "I'm just happy walking backwards." The song offers a real insight into Slocum's emotional state as he lists his anxieties which include not having a haircut that has been "co-opted by Nazis" to just seeking respite from feeling so low all over muted power chords.
There is a pure, unrelenting honesty that bleeds over into every song on Schmaltz as Slocum seeks a positive outlet for his fears about his place in the modern world. The way he spits out the line "I'll just keep pissing in the wind" on "Beer & Nyquil" he sounds torn between trying to effect change and despondent resignation at his certain fate. The song is saved from becoming too maudlin by the strength of the hook that threads itself around the song like barbed wire. On the bar-room, acoustic closer "Aloha to Noone" Slocum makes peace with the fact that sometimes things might not always change for the better.
While Schmaltz is, understandably, dominated by Slocum's intelligent, exploratory lyrics, the songs themselves are a tight and cohesive set of punchy rock songs crammed full of spiky hooks and fuzzy melodies. It's an exposed, cathartic record that'll appeal to anyone seeking sanctuary from life's unpredictability.