Review Summary: GO 90's GO!
Bridge Nine raised quite a few eyebrows with the signing of Lemuria. Although the label has tiptoed outside the hardcore realm in recent years, bands like Polar Bear Club and Strike Anywhere undoubtedly have roots in the genre. Lemuria, on the other hand, is a band known for adorably awkward male/female vocals, fuzzy guitars straight outta '95 and a lyrical portrayal of emotions that are often masked or metaphoric and rarely clear-cut. To put it bluntly, they have no roots in hardcore; their sound couldn't even be described as post-fill in the blank or any subgenre of the sort.
So, a label that carries a lot of weight in a certain subculture took a calculated risk in releasing Pebble, and there's something really exciting about that notion. It's reminiscent of the halcyon days of Jade Tree releasing albums from the Promise Ring and Kid Dynamite, and Revelation putting out classics from Elliott and Shai Hulud. While the definition of punk might be different to every person you ask, diversity and inclusiveness is and will always be punk as ***, so kudos to the B9 folks for thinking outside the box.
Lemuria had a tall order to follow up 2008's excellent Get Better given the circumstances mentioned above, and thankfully, Pebble more than holds its own; while it's exactly what one would expect from the band at this point, it's anything but a carbon copy of its predecessor. "Gravity" opens the album on a quiet, somber note, with guitarist Sheena Ozzella vulnerably and convincingly singing lyrics like "You're good. / You're good at breaking hearts. / Someday, someday, / someday you will be old. / Gravity will destroy you, / what you were good at" over minimal instrumentation that builds and builds but never breaks, which is appropriate given the track's lyrical content. It doesn't eclipse "Pants" as far as great openers go, but it's a nod to trying something different, which ought to be commended.
"Wise People" is where the production of J. Robbins initially shines through; the vocals are distorted and echo-y, the guitar and bass are far fuzzier and the drums are louder and more distant. It fits the band's aesthetic like a glove, and the fact that the song's catchy as hell certainly doesn't hurt. "Pleaser" continues the infectiousness, and it's frankly the best drumming Alex Kerns has ever put to tape; there are plenty of exciting moments and nuances throughout facilitated by his percussion that shan't go unnoticed.
When Kerns takes lead vocal duties, such as on "Different Girls", it's a treat. His voice is deep and somewhat monotone and it perfectly complements Ozzella's mousy, vulnerable singing, evident whenever they back each other up, such as on the aforementioned "Girls" and the track that follows it, "Bloomer".
Pebble ends just as impressively as it began, with "Chautauqua County" serving as the "first single" and rightfully so, as it's the catchiest of Lemuria's 11 offerings here; Ozzella's "whoa"s and "oh"s here really seal the deal, making it easy to see why the song was picked to be released twice. "The One" is a tad more subdued, and it works well enough as an album closer, but like "County" it ends a little abruptly, leaving the listener wondering if there is such a thing as too much brevity. (There is.)
That's small potatoes at the end of the day, though, as Pebble perfectly balances progression with familiarity for a listen that's never anything less than exciting. With material as strong as this, it's easy to see why Bridge Nine hung their credibility-laden hats on Lemuria