The latest installment of From the Valley, an ongoing series of reviews of online releases by Lehigh Valley-based bands.
It’s around the time of year when music scribes of all stripes write about the new music they liked best over the past 11 turns of the calendar.
The new release of 2013 I liked best was probably Hangovers by the Tallboys, an irregular folk-pop-punk-emo assemblage from (I think) Long Island.
I haven’t written about that EP yet, but I will.
When I do, I plan to write about the way the instruments seem to come and go and tumble playfully over each other; and how having multiple singers really adds something to a record; and how well-chosen, unforced detail is more important than rhyme to the success of a lyric; and how sad-sack, self-loathing suburban bro-ism can actually be presented in an appealing way.
I don’t know if the four members of Allentown’s November Is For Friends know the Tallboys exist.
But their brand-new EP Subject: To Change reminds me no small amount of Hangovers, which in my book makes it an auspicious piece of work.
November Is For Friends comes at the same subject matter — youthful failure and stagnation, romantic, personal and otherwise — from a slightly different direction, as though they and the Tallboys had each been given twenty pieces of a hundred-piece puzzle and challenged to put everything together.
The music on Subject: To Change is mostly high-energy, but it’s varied enough in pace and rhythm that it doesn’t seem monotonous.
Ska-style horns, swooping synths, and even a well-camouflaged xylophone show up at various points, enriching the music without calling any special attention to themselves. (Kudos to any band that liberates itself from the bonds of barking power-chord punk guitar.)
The lyrics don’t grab me quite like the Tallboys’, but they operate from a similar place, where clouds of frustration meet sparks of lingering ambition and energy. From “Be A Man”:
My heroes aren’t doing much
And I’m afraid they might have it right
This ghost I call panic is
Haunting me tonight
Or the couplet that begins “I’ll Be Doing Something Soon”:
It’s been a bad weekend
And we’re waiting for the puck to drop
Like if the Flyers win tonight
We’ll all feel a little better
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Even “Fuck You,” as distinctly unpromising a song title as anyone ever came up with, redeems itself with creative touches (puckish trumpet solo, anyone?) and a hook so catchy you’ll murmur it to yourself in the supermarket without really thinking about the words:
I’m too tired to argue
Bands like November Is For Friends and The Tallboys walk a challenging tightrope as they move forward.
If they get their acts together and get good jobs and move to the suburbs and lose touch with the angst that drives them, they’ll be boring.
If they decide to be directionless, pot-smoking morons and give up on moving forward, they’ll be boring in a different way.
Thankfully, while they stand at their particular crossroads, they’re rolling tape. And my 2013, at least in modest ways, is the better for it.
November Is For Friends’ “Subject: To Change” is available as a name-your-price download here.