Review Summary: Messy, isn't it?
A few “fun” facts for you about Leer guitarist and, as I understand it, creative driving force, Dan Vo:
1) He attends the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
2) Dude said no to Billy Corgan. Vo auditioned for Smashing Pumpkins, was offered the position, but ultimately declined.
From these two facts alone I would surmise that he is evidently accomplished, talented, and perhaps even a little precocious. For better or worse these traits are evident on his band Leer’s debut mini-album – the brilliantly titled, ‘SPRINGBREAKNOPARENTS’.
Leer are undeniably a talented young band. Intertwining melodic passages punctuated by hammer-ons and pull-offs, impressive bass grooves, almost-demonic, throat-damaging vocals and polyrhythmic drumming are very much the order of the day here. However, the San Jose quintet often struggle to sufficiently rein in their desire to showcase their ability. The result is an album delicately balanced on a knife-edge between fun, wilful spasticity and incoherent, jarring, even haphazard structures. The stop-start nature of ‘Perpetuity’ ends up hindering the song’s impact as it attempts several faux-crescendos too many, for example. Furthermore, despite the abundant technical proficiency of the band, the feeling that you’ve heard these jagged, spiky riffs before is unshakeable. ‘SPRINGBREAKNOPARENTS’ angular hooks variously sound suspiciously like Tera Melos or Giraffes? Giraffes! – ‘As Cool as an Attempted Suicide’
s final vaulting riff even sounds like sizable portions of Battles’ ‘Atlas’. The record’s constituent parts, therefore, often lack a personal voice
. Regurgitated math-rock riffs are thus crammed into a screamo-shaped mould (think Mahria or early-Beau Navire) with scant regard for whether they fit or not.
Still, despite all this, ‘SPRINGBREAKNOPARENTS’ is a bizarrely enjoyable mini-album. Comadre guitarist Jack Shirley handles production duties and imbues the record with an irrepressible sense of buoyancy and brightness. Twee trade-offs between guitars and bass are all the more gleeful because of this. Predictably, Vo’s guitar work takes centre-stage, leading the charge with fun, technical, yet highly generic melodic phrases. The wilful spasticity of where this riffing will go next is thoroughly entertaining, though at times this leads to nonsensical, overly abrupt structuring. For example, ‘Commemoration’
s abruptness surrenders any potential momentum it might otherwise have accumulated – its sudden collapse into a 4/4 bass stomp being the most obvious example. Meanwhile, the rhythm section keeps pace with this madness, anchoring the madness effectively and commendably, but also briefly, intermittently shining with well-placed, on-point fills. The musicianship of the instrument-toting members of Leer creates many gratifying moments throughout this mini-album.
‘SPRINGBREAKNOPARENTS’ is a mixed bag. Its structural incoherence is frustrating and fun in equal measure and this ultimately determines the enjoyment to be had from the album. Transitions that do
work highlight the gleeful immediacy of the record, and occasionally a few of the more affecting moments; transitions that don’t
– and these are arguably more noticeable – hinder potentially great ideas, making them seem forced, unnecessary and superfluous. However, the prevailing atmosphere of quirky fun just about negates the reductive impact of scatter-brained structuring.
Furthermore, amidst all the quirkiness, a more human poignancy occasionally shines through. The Toe-esque introspection at the start of ‘Perpetuity’, for example, or Brandon Holter’s impassioned, low growl of “I don't want to feel anymore/ I don't want to know anymore/ I am closing my eyes but I'll be fine” beneath a heady rush of guitars at the climax of ‘Tender Compliments’ capturing the melodramatic, sincere, fragmented nature of an angst-ridden teenage diary. The juvenile freedom inherent in a “Spring Break” with no parents leads to both mischief and mayhem; meanwhile, the time and space to think for oneself may lead to histrionic introspection.