I’m going to try and find a unifying theme to the Albums Of The Month that I’m going to recommend to you. Think of it like a review of the reviews. This being the first month, thought I’d run that down.
Carving out a safe space for oneself, especially during youth, can be extremely difficult. Being the leader of a band that is trying to establish itself in the firmly not-safe space of the blogosphere only makes things worse. So when artists construct safe spaces within their music, illuminating undercurrents of insecurity and rage, it makes their records all the more powerful and affecting.
ROMP – Departure From Venus
As a teenage Blink-182 fanboy, it rarely occurred to me to wonder how the girls Tom Delonge and Mark Hoppus so often slagged on and pined over felt, or how they would emote said feelings were they in a band. ROMPs debut, Departure from Venus, feels very much like a response to the girl-focused pop-punk of the late 90s/early Aughts, except rendered in a tighter, more narratively clear format. Where Blink, Green Day, Saves the Day and even major label Jimmy Eat World would couch their lovelorn anthems with rote punk-isms, as if to prove their mettle and legitimacy, ROMP find purpose and validity in the insecurity that comes during the dissolving of a relationship. Nasal spits of brattiness run rampant on Venus, but a beating heart squirms itself out of the relationship framework of Venus’s almost concept album sequencing.
At a scant nine tracks and 23 minutes, Departure From Venus doesn’t seem to have the physical space to build momentum or recount a narrative. Hell, the record rocks hard enough and maintains enough of a breakneck pace that those not looking for emotional intelligence might love it and not catch the story. Yet from the moment the record kicks into its full, unstoppable hooky glory on “Come Undone,” the proto-story about trying to emerge from a relationship with a fully formed sense of self slots into place and ROMP suddenly feel like something more important than their whisper-quiet buzz might suggest.
The album’s first half is focused on the dissolution of a relationship, nowhere more apparent than the insistent first line of the record: “It feels like we’re going back / I don’t mind, I’m alright with that.” From there things get dark; the title track makes explicit reference to the protagonist being dead as metaphor for being separated from a loved one. The first half of Departure from Venus is almost the kabuki theater response to former male sung pop-punk breakup anthems, they of “girls suck” theses. But by the time the titanic chorus of “Come Undone” bring ROMP to their narrative nadir, our main character is yanking herself up by her ratty t-shirt and meeting people. “Naner Manner,” while sonically trending so dangerously close to Take Off Your Pants and Jacket Blink-182, revels in the odd ground of being sober at a party and meeting people that our character actually likes.
Most important in the narrative is “Avoiding Boys,” and the rope-a-dope its title pulls off. Where the song’s title betrays a bratty energy that might result in a bitter screed about the ugliness of men (were the shoe on the other foot, Mark Hoppus probably would’ve taken this bait), instead “Avoiding Boys” is as much about friendship and enjoyment as it is about the reliance on romantic love as a life philosophy. “I don’t care what you might say / this is gonna be a great fuckin’ day,” singer Madison Klarer confidently spills out in the chorus, just before mentioning that, compared to her last summer, this one is totally awesome. Taking a song’s title so seriously is dangerous, but it’s tough to overstate the effectiveness of ROMP writing a positivity anthem worthy of Josie and the Pussycats called “Avoiding Boys.”
Departure from Venus, in many ways, feels like a solution to the problem posed by Best Coast on her hipster-licious 2010 debut Crazy for You. Amid the cat reference, Bethany Cosentino hinted that relationship based pop-punk could not just be a male and female space, but that bands that focus on the female perspective of formative relationship dynamics could own the paint, for at least a little while. Cosentino went far afield toward alt-country with her subsequent releases, and Crazy for You was never actually that record, but Departure From Venus sounds like an assured box out to try and claim pop-punk as an emotionally intelligent genre.
RIYL: Blink-182, Screaming Females, Saves the Day, Best Coast
Essential Tracks: “Come Undone,” “Departure From Venus,” “Avoiding Boys”
Muncie Girls – From Caplan To Belsize
Punk is not supposed to be insecure; its existence is predicated on the idea that things are wrong, dammit, and I’m going to fix them. But ignoring the cost of rebellion, of willfully standing up against self-evidently more powerful forces than you and insisting that the better angels will always win the day, does a disservice to the personalities beneath the message. A person contains multitudes; punk necessarily tries to divorce multitudes from purpose. This can engender madcap devotion from fans but end up souring the formula when a band loses sight of its target (oh hey, Green Day!).
Exeter indie-punkers Muncie Girls, and their excellent debut From Caplan to Belsize, push back directly against this. Singer Lande Hekt has plenty of axes to grind against the “wall of sound” guitars: the short-sighted misogyny of future dads in “Respect,” the dull depression of conceding to more powerful forces in “Nervous,” and the tendency for the education system to beat the punk out of girls in “Learn in School.” Hell, they even slip in a “Oi Oi!” in the feminist screed “I don’t want to talk about it.” Bu listeners might most closely see themselves in Hekt’s often unsteady narrative lyrical footing. Hekt draws a fine line between being principled and fundamentalist, all the while making sure to include little ounces of humanity in between the bravado. Lead single “Gone with the Wind” illustrates the lack of contradictions in this strategy most clearly: “You can find me under the table, I’m not coming out / I’ve had too many beers and I’ve got nothing to be happy about.” Or perhaps the first four bars of shiny album closer “No Recording,” in which Hekt questions whether it’s normal the way she wakes up, tired, trying to understand the state of the world as best she can. Her feeling of exhaustion in the face of unassailable problems makes From Caplan to Belsize’s strident push back against men, government, school, apathy and delusion all the more admirable and human.
The album mostly roars along at its brisk 4/4 pace, Hekt and company prioritizing thoughtful lyrics and hooky guitar melodies over anything resembling chilling out. But right before the album flips to its somehow even punchier b-side, Muncie Girls takes it down a tick for “Social Side.” A satiating bit of The Cure-inspired new wave, “Social Side” is Hekt’s most personal diary entry, tossing out props to both her sister and brother for getting her to where she is today. The song is yet another helpful reminder that punks are as much humans as angry message machines.
RIYL: Green Day (y’know, the good days), Hop Along, Latterman
Essential Tracks: “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” “Gone With the Wind,” “No Recording”
Other Albums Worth Checking Out
Kamaiyah – A Good Night in the Ghetto: Oakland YG-cosigned future queen and her 90s-loving, Missy-genuflecting mixtape.
Brian Fallon – Painkillers: Gaslight Anthem frontman makes a Gaslight Anthem album that’s quieter and has a few more country references. Think 90s Springsteen compared to the E Street Days.
Into It. Over It. – Standards: “Emo Revival” standard bearer Evan Weiss merges Death Cab for Cutie and Mineral, and comes away with something resembling a compendium of the current (amazing) state of emo.
Slingshot Dakota – Break: Imagine pop-punk, but with keyboards instead of guitars. Think you got it.