Temple of Plenty
by Trevor Johnson
The four young men of Somos have already existed as a band on both coasts; eschewing San Francisco in their infancy for the twenty-something dominated streets of Boston. Whether or not geography has affected their sound, their popularity, or the ease with which they conduct their business, the band has built something universally respectable and appreciable regardless of whether you watch the sun rise or set over the ocean each day (and all the beauty that lies between, as well). Somos is uniquely genuine and unabashed in their sound. They are not particularly zeitgeist-y, unless that zeitgeist consists purely of being good at what one does.
To be blunt: Somos excel at pop punk music. But more importantly, it’s the type of pop punk music that can exist in 2014 while still sounding self aware and so utterly in the moment that the band simultaneously paints the landscape of a scene as they churn their way through it. It’s difficult to name any contemporaries for Somos, mostly because they pull from a cross section of punk, emo, and post-hardcore in a way that requires arithmetic few of their peers have matriculated to just yet. There aren’t many bands with Somos’ synthesis of pop smarts, aesthetic range, and self-assuredness. Take vocalist Michael Fiorentino, whose affectations and tendencies are most reminiscent of a dropped-octave (or two) Tom DeLonge. His lack of grit (Fiorentino doesn’t growl or scream, just sings) is uncommon (we’re in a shouty place in punk music right now) but welcome as it folds neatly into the album’s fluid energy. The band’s closest kin are bands like The Wonder Years, Title Fight, and Polar Bear Club, in that Somos has forged an identity at the intersection of punk, emo, and hardcore, but which exceeds the sum of those parts. It would be foolish, as we stand so near the starting line, to put limits around the band’s reach.
Let’s return to that delivery of Fiorentino’s. Throughout much of the album he deals in the shortcomings of others, yet another unique element of Temple of Plenty is rooted in its complicated balance of interpersonal critique and wise-beyond-one’s-years introspection. Even as he derides his subjects (“Prey on the defenseless/Call it strength of the lowest order…Rage takes the place of the once strong control which you reach for with trembling hands,” (“Domestic”)) Fiorentino’s own steady grip on the microphone voids these narratives of judgment or superiority. Rather, he’s documenting scenes of abuse and immaturity with the slightest shaking head; Fiorentino is more the voice of the little guy than anything else. As his even-keel fades from the above-mentioned bridge, guitarists Justin Hahn and Phil Haggerty vault into frame with sharp, bending leads that ultimately serve to underline the sentiments they succeed. Whether it’s the aura of the narratives echoing the music, or vice-versa, it’s a tactic Somos employs neatly, skillfully across all nine tracks.
“Out of everyone I knew here, you were the honest one,” Fiorentino laments over single guitar strums, beginning the fantastic “Dead Wrong”. The music swells around the sentiment and chugs while we learn how far a friend has fallen. The chorus settles adroitly into a muscular half-time, not quite in the way that evoked pogo jumps a decade ago, but rather so that each snare hit lands so powerfully that you’re left remembering your best Tell All Your Friends-soundtracked memories. Meanwhile, Fiorentino, whose song-craft instincts are something to behold throughout, captures the youthful concerns of roiling around him: “Seconds stretching out / A pattern crystalized / Same nine to five / 16 to 65.” Even his immature moments are mature.
Throughout the album Haggerty and Hahn are similarly tasteful in their guitar work, displaying instincts for what these songs call for in equal measure to Fiorentino. They seem fine with you missing their acrobatics as long as your head is bobbing. Their work isn’t rudimentary; rather, it categorically avoids flashiness, choosing instead to contribute to each song’s whole, rather than drag away the spotlight with leads that distract. Instead, they seem much more interested in melodies and harmonies that build. Be it on the stuttering, delay-drenched riffing on “Lives of Others” (by the way, that chorus!), the nods to Hot Rod Circuit on “Distorted Vision”, or the spry changes on “Lifeline” (“Who did you grind down into a memory?” YES!), Hahn and Haggerty are consummate team players contributing at a championship level. Evan Deges’ drumming is similarly focused on the yeoman’s work of fitting these sophisticated pieces together, forgoing sizzle for the dense substantiveness of steak.
Though Fiorentino pulls no punches when voicing his disappointment, be it with the sorry choices of friends or the failures of his generation, it wouldn’t be wholly accurate to describe Temple of Plenty as “negative.” Like the interplay of the band, the record is constructive: the sentiment is far closer to “you can do better, we can do better!” than “you screwed up”. Of the many things that Somos succeed at on their debut, this sentiment is as refreshing as any. Never bitter, hardly cynical, the Bay State foursome revel in taking their own advice. Somos seem as aware as anyone that you only get one debut LP. On Temple of Plenty, they seem singularly committed to muting anyone that could offer “you can do better” in response. Chances are, they won’t be hearing that.