Adam Mcllwee is a surprisingly influential artist. He is the founding member of Scranton, PA’s emo-revival flagship, Tigers Jaw, a band known for their uniquely harmonic and heartfelt rock songs that always evoked a strangely otherworldly feeling, both in terms of lyricism and tone. When Mcllwee left Tigers Jaw in 2013, his intent was to release music as a solo project, experimenting with electronic sounds that were not part of the Tigers Jaw musical pallet. He ended up getting connected with alternative hip-hop collective THRAXXHOUSE, and then founded the Goth Boi Clique collective, which was brought into the mainstream eye by the pop-punk influenced hip-hop of the late Lil Peep. Now, aided by Run For Cover Records, he has released his second full length album under the moniker Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, a name bestowed upon him by a tumblr artist (in case you didn’t think this could get more 2009).
Suffer On is a startling return-to-form for Mcllwee. Although his melodic style never changed drastically from Tigers Jaw to Wicca Phase, the parallels are even more apartment on the new record. This is largely due to the acoustic nature of many of the tracks. Previous Wicca Phase releases have featured production from a variety of artists in the emo hip-hop sphere, including Doves, Fishnarc, Nedarb, and the like. On this record, Mcllwee takes production largely into his own hands, and the result is a more minimalistic sonic world than many fans will be used to. There are no obvious samples, and very few fully electronic sounds. Instead, the music is mainly driven by acoustic guitar chords that call to mind the emo music of the Tigers Jaw days. The song “Crushed” doesn’t even have a beat, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 2013’s Charmer. It offers a strong connection to Mcllwee’s emo-rock past. Fans of Wicca Phase’s acoustic EP, Raw and Declawed, will most definitely be pleased here.
Lyrically, the album also feels even more personal than past releases. It deals starkly with the isolation that many with clinical anxiety and depression feel on a daily basis. Stand out track “Just One Thing” captures this poignantly, “In the darkest of ways I go to sleep / wrapped in a death bag / alone in a death bed / with no one to talk to / still trapped in my own head.” There is no hiding behind mythology as on 2018’s Corinthiax EP. Nowhere is this more blatant on “Does Your Head Stop” where he sings, “It’s depression and it takes over totally / I think I’m a fake in mind and body.” There is not any hope offered here, but a strong focus on the darkness brought on by mental illness.
Suffer On is one of the stronger albums in Mcllwee’s career. The consistency of sound and theme are its most powerful traits, as he latches on to one topic and really delves headfirst into it. Fans of his debut Secret Boy might be a tad disappointed if they were hoping for a more sample-based, electronic sound, but the record serves as a fitting new chapter to a groundbreaking artist who will surely grow in popularity as time goes on.
Rating: 7.5 (Stand Out)
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Label: Run For Cover Records
Release Date: Feb. 15, 2019