Welcome to Compendium, a new column where we offer a beginner’s guide to essential artists, bands, genres, and more. Today: Saves The Day.
Compendium: Saves The Day
Formed in Princeton, New Jersey in 1994, emo quartet Saves The Day have remained a flexible, ever-evolving project for over two decades, one of punk’s most intrepidly experimental and capacious bands. It makes for a constantly rewarding discography that is also notoriously difficult to define or summarize, since no one Saves The Day album truly resembles the one preceding it. But the band released two undeniable landmarks around the turn of the millennium that remain utter classics. 1999’s Through Being Cool is as influential a second-wave emo album as you’re likely to find, as famous for its iconic cover as it is for its subtly cerebral mix of post-hardcore, melodic punk, and power-pop. Ranging from the sprinting “You Vandal” and its bounding pop-punk chorus to the sharp, moody “Third Engine” to the jangling, airy “The Last Lie I Told”, Through Being Cool is a casually brilliant expansion of melodic post-hardcore’s sounds and sentiments.
2001 found the band pushing the new textures and ideas of Through Being Cool even further with the absolutely indelible Stay What You Are. Complete with its own iconic cover (a nostalgic, autumnal landscape of windswept wheat), the album found Saves The Day pushing their pop instincts and their writerly nuance even further, yielding songs like the affecting opener “At Your Funeral”, the buoyant, ultra-catchy “Certain Tragedy” and the more open, elliptical “Nightingale” and “This Is Not An Exit”, the former recalling the romantic drama of Sunny Day Real Estate as the latter explored Zen ideas of death and fate. The album is a defining emo document, as important and consistently breathtaking as American Football or Frame & Canvas, thanks not only to Chris Conley’s impressionistic lyrics and the band’s widening pallette of sounds, but also the crisp, vivid production of Rob Schnapf. Few post-hardcore LPs have aged as well, or remain as illuminating.
Following Stay What You Are, the band parted ways with guitarist Ted Alexander (with over a dozen former members, lineup changes would become a theme) before beginning work on their dense, rich, lightly psychedelic follow-up, In Reverie. Somewhat predictably, the often conservative tastes of the punk and hardcore community rejected the album’s blend of indie rock soundscapes (“Anywhere With You”), Beatles-influenced structures (“Rise”, “She”), and surrealist lyrics (“Monkey)”, as well as the smooth falsetto with which Conley sang them, but In Reverie is in fact a masterpiece, as memorable and engaging as anything the band released, and in truth, likely one of its two finest albums. Ironically, for a band with at least three landmark albums, several of Saves The Day’s defining songs didn’t surface on proper albums. Specifically, “Ups and Downs”, “Sell My Old Clothes I’m Off To Heaven”, and “A Drag In D Flat” all rank among the band’s most beloved tracks, and all of them were first released as B-sides or compilation tracks. This, along with its inclusion of the acoustic I’m Sorry I’m Leaving EP and a terrific, organ-assisted live rendition of “Jessie & My Whetstone” makes the band’s 2006 compilation LP Ups & Downs: Early Recordings and B-Sides nearly as important as its classic 1999-2003 run of albums.
Though some will swear by Can’t Slow Down as the Saves The Day album, it is certainly the most unmistakably of-its-time-and-place release of the band’s first decade, still charming for its breathless pace and scrappy hardcore brawn, but less revelatory than the coming-of-age poetics of Stay What You Are or the oddball stream-of-consciousness of In Reverie. Later, following In Reverie (and its attendant backlash), the band released the back-to-basics 2006 full-length, Sound The Alarm. The record boasts several good-to-great songs (especially the bright, catchy “Eulogy”). Unfortunately, the fact that the album’s brusque, at times palpably angry aesthetic came after an album as complex and painterly as In Reverie seemed to reflect a band losing confidence in its own great ideas. The departure of brilliant bassist Eben D’Amico, who was deeply important to the band’s textured sound, didn’t help. Yet Sound The Alarm did arrive as the beginning of an ambitious trilogy of albums, rounded out by 2007’s Under The Boards and 2011’s Daybreak, both of which boasted their share of adventurous songwriting and production, even if they didn’t quite reach either the creative heights or the audacious energy of In Reverie. Finally, the band released Saves The Day in 2013, a brief, air-tight power pop album that essentialy plays like Saves The Day’s version of The Green Album, likable and light.