Review: Lay My Head Down by Broken Field Runner

For fans of: Foxing, The World is a Beautiful Place, Pianos Become the Teeth, Touché Amoré

LA-based Broken Field Runner‘s sophomore release instantly evokes a similar mood to Touché Amoré’s Stage Four. While the bands showcase vastly different sounds, there’s some common ground in vulnerable, lamenting Cali emo. Since Wisconsin is a barren waste of snow for much of the year, I’m prone to associate beaches, palm trees, and warmth with good vibes.

There’s something striking about juxtaposing a would-be Utopian context alongside themes of pain, death, fear, and uncertainty. In fact, Tony Bucci’s lyrics seem to purposefully waltz into the uncomfortable: teenagers who die in a car crash on the way to prom, a mall shooter, general strife, and more.

And Bucci seems to play into the aforementioned tension as well: the album’s cover is a photo from a wedding and the singles were accompanied by summery, colorful imagery. At a glance, you might expect a fun pop record. But then you’re greeted by lyrics like:

If we’re all just bred for harvest,
if we’re to ever ward off death
it better be as starving artists,
it better be through drugs and sex,
it better be through my one true love.
You better never let me go,
but if you can’t do me the honor,
you better never tell me so

That’s not to suggest every song is crushing, but it’s certainly an emotionally-unnerving experience that thrives off disorientation. There are moments where Bucci doesn’t sing at all, instead having Laura Murphy take lead. There are bits of lo-fi recordings. There are extended spoken word segments. There’s even a bit of brass in true emo fashion. As soon as you feel you’ve figured out what Lay My Head Down is about, everything shifts and you once again need to navigate the new context.

Where most serious albums feel the need to provide a point of redemption, Lay My Head Down doesn’t settle for a happy ending. “Test Everything, Hold onto What’s Good” would seem to be more optimistic from title alone; instead, it’s a brooding eight-minute closer with the main refrain of ” I️ asked you why you lied. I️ was mistaken. I️ apologized.” The track grows in intensity, with Bucci belting the lyrics over a noisy guitar foundation. Even so, it’s one of the best tracks on the album and pairs well with “Palm Trees Wave” to bookend the album (“Put an Ocean Between My Self Pity & Me” feels more like a prelude than a true opener).

Broken Field Runner manages to not simply regurgitate the emo formula on this record. Its raw and authentic production matches the intensity of the lyrical subject matter. Its serious subject matter is paired with catchy choruses. It’s not a groundbreaking album, but it does just enough to break some old genre patterns. Bucci and friends are not afraid to take risks. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t. But since when has punk-based music solely been about mass appeal? Lay My Head Down is a well-composed biography of struggle in the modern age that deserves a bit more attention.

Our Rating: 7.0 (Stand Out)

Review: Suffer On by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal

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)

For info on how we rate albums see our rating scale.

Label: Run For Cover Records

Release Date: Feb. 15, 2019

Review: “Oliver Appropriate” by Say Anything

“With 2024 fast approaching, the record provides a moment to stop and reflect on how long ago that “glam-era” moment really is.”

FFO: Motion City Soundtrack, The Front Bottoms, PUP

Say Anything has always held a unique place in the emo-cannon.  They are most often associated with the 2000’s “glam-era,” in which the genre reached its peak of mainstream popularity with the success of bands like blink-182, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Paramore, to name a few.  Although their debut, the excellent Is A Real Boy, came out in 2004, it stood out from the others because it wasn’t . . . cool.  Front-man and mastermind Max Bemis’ voice was a bit too over the top, a bit too musical-theater to fall into the cool, sexy sad boi sweet spot that Pete Wentz ruled over.  On top of that, he literally said anything, with lyrics riddled with sarcasm and irony that cut deeper into genuine self-criticism and existential doubt then most glam-era bands.  Bemis also chose to model his lyrics around characters, speaking from multiple personalities throughout his work, making for more nuanced, interesting listens. 

Oliver Appropriate, Say Anything’s self-proclaimed last album, is a bit of a return to form.  Their previous few releases (I Don’t Think It is, and Hebrews) played off as experiments, and lacked a certain something, maybe passion, that their previous work had.  Oliver Appropriate finds Bemis returning to the guitar, but this time, it’s an acoustic.  The songs have an acoustic-but-not quality to them; nearly every track is based around Bemis’ strumming, but there is plenty of instrumentation surrounding it.  It would be inaccurate to call this the record unplugged.  There are drums on most tracks, distorted guitar leads, and backing vocals that flesh out the sound, making it anything but hushed. 

Bemis’ classic, snarling delivery is also back in full.  The hooks are there, the poppy melodies, the sarcasm.  On this album he embodies the character of a washed-up rock star, and uses this perspective (suspiciously like his own) to offer an insider’s critique of the scene, years down the road from where he was in 2004.  “I know a lot of men in hardcore bands / collectively funding the Columbians / straight edge guys who turn to weed and beer / ‘til they all got divorced and they all grew beards,” he belts in his ironic sing-song voice on “Pink Snot.”  He addresses it even more directly on highlight “Ew Jersey,” “Tonight I’ll meet my friends, we were once the greatest / a band that’s coming back from a fake hiatus / hoping that the girls clinging to the bar / know who we are.”  It is partly a critique and partly admission.  The album is a reckoning with the past, a reflection on a band who’s moment has gone, for better or for worse. 

This album is not likely to gain Say Anything any new fans, which is okay because it’s their last.  Instead, it’s a return to everything they have always done best.  At its core Oliver Appropriate is a pop-punk album, done in the theatrical style that their fanbase has always loved.  And with 2024 fast approaching, it provides a moment to stop and reflect on how long ago that “glam-era” moment really is.

Rating: 6.9 (Solid)

For info on how we rate albums see our rating scale.

Label: Dine Alone Music Inc.

Release Date: Jan 25, 2019

The DIY Deep Dive: “Parental Guidance” by Ok O’Clock

“Life isn’t PG 13, Life has language And full frontal nudity
Its got drug abuse and depictions of minors drinking
Its got gore and it gets ugly”

FFO Sorority Noise, The Hotelier, Free Throw

The DIY Deep Dive is a monthly column to showcase impressive DIY touring artists who are in the very early stages of their career. These artists may not always have the most glitzy or refined recordings, but their underlying talent shines through their low budget. To qualify for this column an artist must have less than 2000 social media followers and preferably be independent, while displaying the talent and creativity of acts much larger. Think of this as a column for early-adopters: get in on the ground floor with these artists and help them get to the next level.

Our DIY Deep Dive for January, 2019 is Parental Guidance from Kansas City emo artist Ok O’ Clock.

“Parental Guidance” by Ok O’Clock

Lance Rutledge, aka Ok O’Clock

Life isn’t PG 13, Life has language 
And full frontal nudity 
Its got drug abuse and depictions of minors drinking 
Its got gore and it gets ugly 
Its a compilation of every life colliding 
It’s a conflagration of stressful nights and anxiety 
It’s the mom next door worried about her son 
Because its 3 AM in the morning 
And he hasn’t come back from that party

Parental Guidance (song) by Ok O’Clock

The sophomore full-length from Kansas City, MO songwriter Lance Rutledge is a vulnerable reckoning with grief on the cosmic level. Here he tries to process a world that seems to be unraveling; attempting to reconcile the death, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse pervading his circumstances with the concept of a loving and caring God. It’s confessionalism at its most frank and unapologetic, calling to mind recent emo monoliths Sorority Noise and The Hotelier.

There is an overwhelming sense of unease that carries through the whole album. This manifests itself not so much as hopelessness, but as helplessness, the by-product of hearing a friend say “we’re all gonna die anyway”and fixating on that moment at the funeral, or watching the ambulance cart your roommate off after he overdoses on pills.  It’s the frantic feeling of wanting to help, but not knowing how to make the situation better. “Never be afraid / To talk to me / Never be afraid / To say I need you,” Rutledge pleads quietly on Talk, but soon he too needs saving. As the song transitions to Waltz in 4/4 he finds himself in the midst of self-destruction: “You either go out fighting / Or you go quiet in the night / Not at all like it should be / Not everyone survives.”

The lyrics are the clear focal point on Parental Guidance, asking hard questions in hard situations through well-crafted line after well-crafted line. Perhaps the most probing stanza of all comes partway through The Optimistwhere Rutledge tries to make sense of the phrase “God has a plan”: “Mad Scientist of the cosmos: / ‘Have you met my finest specimen Job?’ / ‘he ran the maze in record time’ / But what about his wife and kids? / Go on about your pottery / Why did you orchestrate all this / At the expense of their eternity?” He closes the song with bewilderment, “I was supposed to be the careless one / Not you.” Every painful moment is laid out in detail; raw, emotional, and afraid.

Parental Guidance is Ok O’Clock’s most complete work to date, a well-thought out record complete with recurring musical motifs, found sound interludes, and a full narrative arc. For fans displaced after Sorority Noise’s recent fall from grace, or anyone looking for a potent and relatable emo album with its sights set much higher than highschool relationship drama, this should prove a worthwhile listen. You can check it out below and follow our DIY Deep Dive playlist on Spotify to hear selections from this and other DIY Deep Dive albums any time.

Review: “You’re Gonna Miss Everything Cool and Die Angry” by Catholic Werewolves

FFO: Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor, American Pleasure Club

It’s early January and those of us in the West are steeped in a holiday hangover. Just one week ago I was half a state away from home, surrounded by family and taking full advantage of any home-cooked meal I could get my hands on. Today I am back in Philadelphia, back to the 40-hour work week grind, and back to eating Wendy’s for lunch every day. With “normal” life once again in full swing it’s easy to romanticize the festivities of last week and blot out any of the frustrations that the holidays can also bring with them.

What are you doing with your life?” For many of us in our twenties that is the dreaded question, rivaled only by its usual follow up: “what are your plans for the future?” There is a prevailing unease that seems to pervade a large subset of our generation; a sense that we should probably be farther along than we are, a sense that we should be in different circumstances that seem unattainable, or for many of us who are “on the right path”, a sense that we should be happier with where we are. On their debut full-length You’re Gonna Miss Everything Cool and Die Angry, Davenport, Iowa punks Catholic Werewolves tap into this generational malaise effortlessly and effectively.

The album starts off with a patchwork of TV samples that capture the psychological environment of the prototypical “millennial burnout.” “What about YOUR goals?” “A bride suit…” “Another fatal police shooting…” “JACKASS!” “It’s yet another long series of diversions in order to avoid responsibility.” “And, uh… It doesn’t really matter. I uh… I don’t like my job and, uh… I don’t think I’m gonna go anywhere…” Before you can even piece together what’s happening the band roars in with the rousing sing along line “Hiding in your old pullover/ Not your friend, just a coworker.” It’s subtle alienation from line one; relational distance, the substitution of a cheap acquaintance where a friend should be. However, by the time the opening track reaches it’s mostly-sincere but sarcasm-tinged hook, “You’re far more than your circumstances/ Part-time job, or bad romances/ And certainly more than how your parents spin your/ Lifestyle in their Christmas letters” it’s clear that there’s more to be unpacked here than just another suburban punk record with vaguely Marxist undertones.

Where many similar albums slip either into full on “eat the rich” revolution mode or into despondent loserdom, YGMECADA lands where most people realistically are: wrestling with societal expectations that either seem unfulfillable or undesirable, trying to figure out what success means and what it’s worth, what makes life worth living and how you can pay the rent if your dead-end job is getting in the way of being a real human. Catholic Werewolves leave no stone unturned while exploring these themes, even calling into question their own anger and anti-establishment attitudes. This line of questioning culminates in one of the best lines on the album halfway through Tom Hanks: “It’s not the aesthetic of anti-capitalists/ Or the use of an anarchist plot-twist/ John Cusack has asked it/ Am I upset or/ Am I programmed by art that seems sympathetic?/ … (I am) Responsible for/ My love for my malaise.”

The immediate and easily relatable lyrics are accompanied by flurried, angry punk arrangements reminiscent of Jeff Rosenstock or early Joyce Manor, complete with frequent groove changes, melodic guitar hooks, and cathartic gang vocals. At least that’s the case on all of the tracks except the acoustic front-porch anthem Tuxedo T-shirt, which provides a brief respite from the energetic pace of the rest of the album. As a whole, the album also has a ton of replay value. For all of the grooves and shout along melodies packed into these eight songs, the full run time of the album barely tops the 15 minute marker, making it an easy listen and also leaving you hungry for more.

All that said YGMECADA does have a handful of detractors, mostly on the recording and production end. While completely listenable, the album as a whole lands just a hair more lo-fi than similar DIY punk records, which are as a rule already pretty lo-fi. The mix EQ skews a little heavy on the treble, not enough to be piercing, but enough to be noticeable. Beyond that, the performance, particularly on the vocals, is also a little shaky at points. Part of this matches and adds to the loose aesthetic of the songs, but there are several sections where the pitchiness of the vocals doesn’t come from a lack of ability, but just from a bad take on notes that the vocalist hits elsewhere on the record. With a little more attention to detail in the recording process this album would have shined even more than it already does, and it’s already a damn good record.

As it stands YGMECADA is a fun-packed and angst-filled banger, a promising debut from a young band that definitely has a lot of potential. In its niche, that little sliver of punk that isn’t fully emo or fully pop-punk but has the stronger elements of both, it stands out as one of the better recent full-lengths, combining the usual energy and catchiness of the genre with lyrics and self-awareness that are significantly more impressive. Hopefully this is only the start of what should be a very solid career, because I look forward to hearing what Catholic Werewolves become as their sound matures.

7.0/10 (Stand Out)

For more information on how we score albums, see: Our Rating Scale

Underrated Albums: Club Misery EP by Misery Club

Misery Club is an emo-rap supergroup comprised of Wicca Phase Springs Eternal (founder of hip-hop collective Goth Boi Clique), Lil Zubin (lauded by many as the Soundcloud Weeknd), Fantasy Camp (renowned underground producer and songwriter), and Jon Simmons aka Coward (former vocalist of Balance & Composure). The group quietly released their debut EP this past summer, and it’s probably been one of the most addicting releases of the year.

Produced by underground hitmakers Nedarb and Foxwedding, each of the four tracks sounds sleek, effortless, and catchy. The clean guitar samples are overlaid flawlessly with tightly constructed beats, which are some of the best produced I’ve heard this year in the underground. They do not go out of their way to pull off anything groundbreaking or abnormal, but provide the perfect soundscapes to let the vocalists shine.

And man, do they shine. Perhaps the strongest aspect of Misery Club is the diversity of singing/rapping skills and delivery. The lyrical, emo drone of Wicca Phase’s sing-rapping contrasts wonderfully with the pristine melodies provided by Lil Zubin. Fantasy Camp’s understated, soft delivery makes Simmons’ harsh auto-tune pop out in a way that would not be possible without the other. The four take turns in the spotlight throughout the EP; there is no definitive star in Misery Club. Each member gets a first verse on the project, setting their own unique mood on each track.

“River of Blood” kicks off the album as Zubin’s haunting voice floats over a detuned keyboard, “Oh the river of blood in my veins went dry / last night I went to sleep and died / ghost of Zubin / bring me back to life.” The line is hilariously self-aware (and EPIC) in how dramatic it is, and when the beat drops, it’s the first “oh shIT!” moment on the record. The other three members trade verses on the rest of the track, with Zubin coming back to offer a hook before Simmons closes it off. It’s a total banger, the type of funny, sincere, and incredibly ear-wormy writing that instantly gets you hooked.

“Left Side” is the Wicca Phase fronted track, beginning with a melancholy guitar riff and a slowed-down, minimalistic beat. His monotone vocal delivery fits perfectly with the vibe of the track, as the gloom sets in, “And one time I was so drunk off of red wine / so I could talk to you and with honesty / the problems only come up when I come down / and yet I’m fine when I finally get sleep. He is interrupted by Simmons, who’s soaring melodies contrasts beautifully with the previous verse, running right into Fantasy Camp’s smooth flow, finishing off with Zubin’s trademark vibrato, leaving the listener totally satisfied and sufficiently bummed out, but in a “yeah I’m sad but I still like to party” kind of way.

“Bad Mood” begins similarly, this time with Simmons providing the hook, “Never leave you in a bad mood / girl, I promise if I had you / I’ll never leave you in a bad mood / all my life I wish I had you,” bringing Misery Club the closest to Backstreet Boys territory they have come yet. The song flows by with a similar mid-tempo, breezy feel to the previous track, but this does not serve to harm the record, building the consistency.

The final track, “Lifesaver,” starts off with nearly a minute of ominous droning and 808 hits, standing out from the slow build of the previous tracks. What follows is Fantasy Camp’s lead off verse, one of the most haunting lyrical moments on the album, “Now I’m lying on the ground, foreign objects in the sky / they shower me in blood while I try to rest my eyes / I see you in a vision and you slowly start to cry / I’m going far away now, and I always wonder why.” It closes off with Wicca Phase asserting himself as the king of darkness just before the 808s begin to fade, “I’m a high priest, I come from the fourth world / I come up with new words, even you don’t understand, no.” The EP concludes with the ghost of Zubin once again floating over the chaos.

Although this release is not necessarily groundbreaking either lyrically or sonically, it stands as one of the strongest testaments to emo-rap as a sustainable genre, and begs the question of whether emo as a whole will go in this direction in the next decade. The potential for popular appeal in this release is absurd. Between the addicting beats, #relatable lyrics and charisma, Misery Club could be America’s next boy band. With another EP on the way, and all of the members releasing their various solo music, I’m excited to see what they come up with over the next few months as this sub-genre continues to grow and evolve.