Del Paxton / Gulfer
by Chad Jewett
As the cerebral, looping aesthetics of emo’s second-wave increasingly become gospel for the genre in 2015, the salient new records are the ones with some imagination and the instincts needed to make a difficult genre into one that connects. All of that clean, geometric guitar just seems to have a lot more to say when it’s sharing space with real melodies and structures that figure into destinations. It’s one of the things that makes the new split release from Del Paxton and Gulfer interesting. These are two bands who actually seem to be metabolizing their record collections, rather than learning them by rote, even if that line isn’t always boldly drawn in.
“Paline”, the EP-opening contribution from Buffalo, New York trio Del Paxton benefits from a crisp, cascading groove – attacking at rounded-off angles like a less serrated Bear vs. Shark — and a chorus that actually works as a chorus, a hurdle that contemporary emo more often plows into than leaps over. When “Paline” ebbs into a hazy bridge the results are lovely and vivid. The bleary space is a fine setting for Zack Schoedel’s cozy baritone, which makes a meal of stretched-out syllables. For a band with such fizzy, boundless energy, it’s perhaps surprising that Del Paxton might be at their most interesting when at their most measured and atmospheric. There’s fun in the first half of “Paline”, but there’s beauty in its outro.
“Bad Batch” – not quite as good as “Paline” — swings from the reedy, elliptical emo trickle of 1990s Greater Chicago to something like Monument’s sinewy post-hardcore, to the fleet, forward-motion pop-punk of Hot Rod Circuit. The song doesn’t have “Paline”’s symmetry, or its sense of purpose, but it does have vivacity. Del Paxton are young and adventurous and clearly suffused with ideas. That one can’t quite be sure which of those aesthetics is Del Paxton – or even if all of them might be – is only mildly frustrating. Mostly it’s promising.
Montreal’s Gulfer manage to make something elastic and naturalistic out of math rock’s cubism and its elbowing angles – no small feat. “F’real For Real” bounces and rolls, shoots off in several directions at once, and like “Paline”, arrives at something unexpectedly affecting when all of its stylized clutter fades into a short, placid outro. “Bob Abate” (is that a Slint/“Don, Aman” reference?) is impressive for what Gulfer is able to superimpose over its tricky, side-winding grooves, especially in an early middle-eight (starting around the 0:48 mark) that stacks glassy guitars cut into triplets over a churning 4/4.
There is imagination and craft manifest in Gulfer’s music – the band clearly has interest staked in making something effusive and extroverted from aesthetics that are normally cerebral and inward. At times, the effort can result in a welding job that shows its fused edges – its hard to figure exactly how “Bob Abate” makes its way from part to part. Yet there’s real warmth and lightness to the dancing guitar figures that ping-pong across the song’s back half, and the call-and-response that Gulfer crafts out of those riffs and a very good outro melody is terrific; the denouement of “Bob Abate” has the effect of firing electrons, settling into place. The trick for Gulfer ends up being the challenge of any tough math problem – figuring out both sides of the equation.