Review Summary: Solid followup, slightly diverging from old school emo of previous LP.
Last summer I didn't go to many shows, but one of the few I did go to stood out. It was in Berkeley in this liberal literature (or propaganda) right by the Ashby BART station. The place was pretty cramped and as the sun set, the bands played lit by one lonely light bulb while a fan whirred to fight out the still hot air, which was made humid by all off the sweaty hipster kids who decided the best way to spend their Friday night was to see I Would Set Myself on Fire for You, Life at These Speeds, and Funeral Diner. To fans of any modern emo, this is a pretty stacked lineup and the show was at least memorable for its relevance. In terms of performance though, the band I most enjoyed was Life at These Speeds. I had already seen Funeral Diner and IWASMOFFY was so painfully melodramatic, I didn't really buy into their set. Life at These Speeds were sort of goofy and rough hewn, and didn't go for the typical emo dramatics other bands go for. I was impressed and decided to pick up their self-titled LP, which, originally released on Grey Space Records, had just been rereleased on Level Plane. It was good. Really good. So how does one follow that up?
To Your Health
attempts to both expand and contract Life at These Speeds' music. Their self-titled LP is reminiscent of the more original emo styling of Embrace and Rites of Spring, due to their stripped down tones and more punk songwriting tactics. There aren't tons of arpeggios and riffs, but a lot of good chord progressions and octave melodies. They have their moments at being epic sounding, but these never felt trite or outplayed. They felt like the combination of old Fugazi and Grade, and it was good. To Your Health
expands on these ideas by being more inclusive of modernist emo tendencies. While the octaves and power chords seem to hit just as hard on this album, there is more variety to the songwriting. We have more arpeggios, more riffing, more weird ambient sampling. Similarly there is more focus on the tone of the instruments as there are moments where a whining echo pedal will come in or a solo bass will distortedly lumber away. Overall, it seems like more was put into this album to make it a complete package. Some songs benefit from this a lot. "To Your Health" is made
by the use of echo and reverb on the guitar leads towards the end of the song, and the bridge of "Retina" has a lot of flavor in its background choral-like synthesizer. Other songs seem to just be fun punk songs that generally don't care about their own production value.
How does To Your Health
contract on their earlier albums' accomplishments? As I mentioned earlier, despite the more focused and precise production, most of these songs don't need the extra tones and sounds. Most of the songs on this album feel ever more reductive and simple than those on the self-titled album, so to add handclaps at one point or a cool echo pedal at another really doesn't matter and can distract from how visceral and powerful the songs can be at their most simplistic. Furthermore, this album, in its reductive sound, ends up sounding more like a punk Pretty Girls Make Graves than anything else. While this is probably a turn on for a lot of indie fans aching for an upbeat drum passage or a weird, angular guitar riff, it takes away from some of the punch of the music. Props to Life at These Speeds for subtlely changing up their style, but I wonder how effective it is. On some songs, I'm loving their less punk moments; "Blocking Out the Stars" is insanely catchy and the ending climax is made all the more wonderful by the sweeter beginning to the song. On others though (see the part at around 0:49 on "To Your Health"), I am not feeling the off kilter guitar over the dancy rhythm formula.
Overall, this album is going to be remembered for its numerous, awesome rougher moments than its more interesting or artsy moments. Life at These Speeds won me over with being rough hewn and goofy. I didn't need melodrama, I didn't need artistry. This album has plenty of what made their performance and first LP so satisfying. The simple overlay of the massively repeated 3/4 guitar lead over the 4/4 backing on "Not So Long Ago" or the unison vocals over solo guitar and a straightforward drum pattern on "Blocking Out the Stars" are wonderfully effective and memorable, and will stand out above the more "indie" moments of this album. Short of just claiming "punx rawkx" and arbitrarily hating on indie, I think it's apparent that Life at These Speeds is a band that's really in touch with the power of punk's simplicity, and though they complicate that with indie and emo influences, at its core, their music is awesome for its energy and character, not its production or artsiness, though those aspects do make notable appearances to both the benefit and detriment of To Your Health
Recommended Punx Trax: "Not So Long Ago," "Blocking Out the Stars," "Simple Math," and "Heavy Hand"