REVIEW: Tawny Peaks / Chalmers / Among Giants
by Chad Jewett
In Silver River
Tawny Peaks are the kind of emo band that one would imagine spent as much time with June of 44 and old Saddle Creek LPs as they did with The Get Up Kids or Deja Entendu. In Silver River, the band’s newest album, and, if the band is to be believed, their last, has the carefully whittled shimmer of the former and the bronzed tunefulness of the latter. Take album-opener “Go Ask Arthur,” a lovely three minutes of trickling guitars, open spaces, and an amber twang that blurs the I-95 post-hardcore of the band’s native New Jersey with the alt-country murmur of points west. Singer Charlie Perris uses that knotted, sylvan surface for a lovely narrative of nature imagery and open questions: “In a field where nothing grows, we were reminded that you never know” — his voice haloed by a female alto (courtesy of Molly Grund) that gives the whole song a poignant second strata, more flexible and Romantic and intuitive than most of the bands you would call Tawny Peaks’ peers.
Elsewhere, “Righting the Writ” (Tawny Peaks also have a penchant for playing around with language the way they similarly improvise with a certain introverted strain of indie rock) has the thoughtfulness of American Football, capturing not only the in-vogue swells and ebbs of Midwestern math-emo, but also it’s grasp on the sneaky rhythms of conversation and observation that have always been Mike Kinsella’s secret weapon. “In Silver River,” the album’s title track and finest moment, is built around a pairing of Perris and Grund that exists as a beautiful, welcoming through-line in a song that is otherwise constantly shifting – between 6/8 and 4/4; between mannered arpeggios and springing grooves (the rhythm work of Jonah Friend and Dexter Loos is routinely excellent – spry and melodic) – lending the song the quality of travel through shifting landscapes in a car set to cruise control. Like the rest of the album, “In Silver River” holds the twinkling surfaces and slow-phase mathematics of emo at its most pensive, but it is also wholly expansive, finding poignant ways to make all of that refracting light positively gleam. Indeed, that intrepid search for new approaches to translucent, springy post-hardcore — rooted in added layers of harmony, expanse, and movement — define the subtle greatness of In Silver River, an album that feels like a hidden gem waiting to be uncovered. Simply put, the album is cerebral and gorgeous, a marvel of understated beauty.
Four Songs, the debut EP from You Blew It!/We Were Skeletons side-project Chalmers (please let that be a Simpsons reference), is angular and disheveled, simultaneously evocative of the most taut Dischord releases while constantly fraying at the edges. Sawing away beneath the distance of an airy, lo-fi recording, “Utah” pivots between basement-punk gallop and post-hardcore churn, guitars variably flashing in oblique shards or humming in palm-muted thickness. The song’s coda simmers into a curling, algebraic tangle of guitars, bouncing off one another like a cloud of atoms. This all more or less captures the aesthetic of Chalmers, whose center of gravity is Fugazi, Unwound, Nation of Ulysses, Jawbox – a mini-generation of barbed punk modernism that turned hardcore into art music. One hears the syncopated bass of “Biting Lip” and the wiry guitar overlaying it and can’t help but consider echoes of Red Medicine or The Lurid Traversal of Route 7 – which of course mainly means that Chalmers are doing their post-hardcore excavating in the Chesapeake Bay rather than the suburban Midwest. It also means that, depending on your taste for nervy, anxious crescendo and ever-shifting rhythm shapes, there is a refreshing tenor to Chalmers, a band whose allegiance to a certain aesthetic time and place happily extends to the moods and tensions of that stuff and not just its surface signatures.
Back and Forth
Among Giants, an emo three-piece from Orlando Florida, craft sturdy, functional melodic punk whose chief qualities are solid and workman-like. Back and Forth, the band’s newest EP via Jetsam-Flotsam is graced with a front image of a game of table-tennis (hence the title “Back and Forth”), the white ball suspended in mid-air over the center net (coincidentally recalling the foosball table of a recent Joie de Vivre/Prawn split and not at all coincidentally evoking two decades worth of emo cover images focusing on everyday objects raised to the mythic and iconic). This potentially says a great deal about the basement-scale ambitions and aesthetics of Among Giants, even if the image is perhaps more arresting than the music it carries. Verses are frequently palm-muted means-to-an-end, hooks arrive when they ought to, atop bigger crests and higher registers. If all of this sounds unremarkable, keep in mind that one might also call it unassuming; you could balk at the band’s familiarity or call it realism. Both apply. “Cats and Ferrets” has all the contours and topography of twenty-five years of pop punk, and while singer Greg Hughes is still finding ways to carve melodies out of an oaken low tenor (the song’s spare verses are a tough assignment for Hughes), the song works when it loosens up, when its staid pop-punk is interrupted by short bursts of hardcore, when Hughes is nicely haloed by shouts (“And at a slow pace I walk into a bad decision”) and volume. This might be why “Hardwood Floors,” which finds purchase in the pop-minor keys of Millencolin or Alkaline Trio, works best, because it spends the longest time in this more frayed, combustible register.