You Blew It!
by Chad Jewett
What does growing up sound like? If this isn’t necessarily the question that Abendrot, the new album from Florida emo quintet You Blew It!, is asking in any literal way, it is certainly an adjunct to everything you end up hearing on the album. And in some sense, the band has a steeper hill to climb than many of their cohort, since so much of their work up until this point (absenting maybe last year’s Jade Tree-released 7” Pioneer of Nothing) has been so resolutely friendly, unassuming. Their name cites an Adam Sandler movie, the Orson Welles of perpetual adolescence. Even when their very good 2014 LP Keep Doing What You’re Doing leveled its slings and arrows (as on the surprisingly bitter yet entirely exciting opening 1-2 of “Match & Tinder” and “Award of the Year Award”), Tanner Jones and company’s harshest words still translated into a reassuring “I know you can do better”. In other words, even as the stories within You Blew It! songs matured, those wiser moments were hidden by the bands own affability. All through 2014 and 2015, You Blew It! still sounded like the positive, friendly, polite exceptions in a scene that can turn antisocial or pointlessly ironic much faster than you might think.
This might partly explain why Abendrot can’t help but feel like a deliberate attempt to bring the band’s sound in line with its increasingly ruminative perspectives. The good news is that the band largely succeeds by dint of its own earnestness. This is a fact that turns Abendrot, and You Blew It! in general, into a kind of feel-good success story, even though the band has never been this willing to explore the sounds of feeling bad. This is what gives us the nervy minor-key potboiler that is “Autotheology”, with all of its Devil-and-God-era Brand New moodiness and impressionistic mixing (guitars are crunched down to acidic forked tongues, drums, courtesy of Matthew Nissley, are naturalistic and echoing, lending the whole thing a bad-dream ambiance). Sure, the songs coda arcs up into a major key (this is You Blew It! after all). But atop all that are lines like “When God dies I’ll skip the funeral”, stark in their bitterness, daring in their clarity. Credit the band’s willingness to explore more tangibly darker material for these kinds of lyrics; they clearly want us to listen and hear.
That same willingness to spike their sound with something a bit more acerbic marks the dirge-like “Minorwye”, a song that builds gradually like some combination of Jeff Buckley and the most depressive passages of Foo Fighters’ underrated One By One before threatening a final burst that never quite comes (a smart plot twist). While closer to the pillowed major-key lushness that defines Abendrot, ballads like “Sundial Song” and “Basin & Range” have some of the fraying emotive overflow of Sunny Day Real Estate’s untitled second album, where loveliness so frequently straws into strangeness. Late-album highlight “Arrowhead” indulges these strains even more overtly, Jones’ voice left way out in the echo-chamber background behind a careful skeleton of minor key guitars, underlining the addition-by-subtraction schema that defines so much of the album’s careful deployment of negative space. By and large You Blew It! is a bit too literal to let that kind of eccentricity fully define their work – Abendrot’s ambitions are for art as something exquisitely formed, not painstakingly wrenched – but it lends the album an interesting bit of shading to see where the songs start to bend in odd directions – a purposely out-of-key note here, an especially unguarded vocal performance from Jones there.
The majority of the album builds upon the gains of Pioneer of Nothing, often to lovely effect. “Greenwood” follows up on the more slow and measured moments of that EP and uses its painterly, carefully-etched studio choices (enabled at least in part by producer Evan Weiss) to lend the material a feeling of density and heft. Abendrot sounds both expansive and expensive. Many a song is punctuated by organs, synthesizers, effects-heavy sound that glitters and chatters. Where a 2013 version of “Hue” would fill itself out with Telecaster arpeggios, the version we get is dotted with bubbling keys. Outro “Kerning”, which floats in on echoes and electric organ, finds the Venn diagram center uniting Appleseed Cast, post-For Emma Bon Iver and Jets To Brazil that a lot of Abendrot seems to be tracing around, especially whenever the album’s instruments shimmer like so much of the former two while Jones tells stories that recall the worn sincerity of the latter.
“Like Myself”, the album’s second track, is, ironically, both one of the album’s most familiar and one of its best (ironic because the album itself seems deadset on anything but familiarity). The difference is that “Like Myself”, for all the ways in which it hinges on the familiar gauzy bounce of this generation’s emo (a sound that includes the album’s producer and many of the band’s peers), knows a hook when it has one (“I don’t feel like myself / Or anyone else”) and is willing and able to pause that sparkling post-hardcore aesthetic – one used far too often by other bands as the end instead of the means – in favor of writing an actual song. It is in these moments where we see You Blew It! recalling, of all people, The Starting Line, one of many artists who weathered emo’s glib, facile early-2000s low-points to make a record (in their case, 2005’s cult-classic-to-be Based On A True Story) that balanced newfound insightfulness with the best of their old irrepressible instincts. Who knows but that You Blew It! might someday cook up a hook as good as this. It’s probably a safe bet, in fact. Thus that wave of reinventions (which, it should be said, includes more familiar examples like Futures and The Devil and God or Northstar’s Pollyanna) prove interesting models for You Blew It!, speaking to exactly what Orlando quintet signify in today’s emo scene, and why Abendrot is so admirable an effort. So much of this album succeeds wonderfully, and does so because You Blew It! actually cares, and isn’t afraid that by the time you finish Abendrot you certainly know it.