Review Summary: Constructing a bridge between the midwest and the mainstream.
Emo, in all its forms, is a genre that has a profound dependence on meaning, both literal and figurative. It's a genre where lyrics are pivotal to the perception of the whole; where the quality of words on a page can influence the reception of what may otherwise be an immaculately executed composition. The Promise Ring
are no exception; their debut album 30 Degrees Everywhere a rather sloppy and unrefined portrait of midwest emo, complete with the twinkly guitars and frenzied emotion that the genre is (in)famous for. What could have easily been one of multitudes of midwest emo albums to fade into obscurity, 30 Degrees was elevated by quirky yet emotionally resonant lyrics, amplifying the effect of the accompanying delivery and creating something incontrovertibly pulchritudinous and immediately effectual.
Fast forward a year and The Promise Ring
have written and released another album titled Nothing Feels Good. Much like its predecessor and the majority of emo albums, this album relies on meaning. The title, Nothing Feels Good, itself is polysemic; containing multiple meanings that can be extrapolated by altering the various emphases of the phrase. If you were to emphasise the first word, the phrase would imply that there is not a single thing that feels good; exposing and expatiating the literal meaning. Conversely, if you were to place the emphasis on "feel", the secondary meaning becomes apparent; creating something much more philosophical, referencing the abstraction that absence of anything, and everything, feels good. These dual-meanings shape the album, allowing The Promise Ring the ability to maintain a sense of textual integrity; enabling the materialisation and perpetuity of concept and meaning throughout the album.
In this sense, Nothing Feels Good, is a systematic extension of 30 Degrees, taking the ideas originally presented and aggrandising them to create something much more compelling. This is also reflected in the music, this album quite similar to its predecessor, however, the the troglodytic elements of 30 Degrees have been refined; the sound ameliorated to create an album that whilst emotionally resonant, remains so without jeopardising listenability. The streamlined sound that The Promise Ring
present is empowered by the robust mix provided by J. Robbins (of Jawbox
esteem), allowing each individual component the ability to be heard; from the subtly complex drumming to the smooth bass-lines that fill each track.
By streamlining their sound, it could be expected that the human element of their music may be obfuscated, removing the music's emotional resonance, rendering it insubstantial, especially so considering the genre that it belongs. This is, however, not the case, as the quirky lyrics - or maybe, more appropriately, mantras - that The Promise Ring
are known for do remain. These lyrics, although possibly more minimalist than those of the preceding album, still manage to pack extraordinary amounts of emotion within, the lyrics of the third track, "Red and Blue Jeans", a consummate example:
"Nothing feels good like you in,
Your red and blue jeans and your white and night things."
The quality of these lyrics, and their implied polysemic meanings (tying back into the album's motif of polysemy), accompanied by Davey von Bohlen's unique yet powerful vocal delivery, maintain and even (at times) extend the emotionally resonant aspects of The Promise Ring's
music. The minimalism of the lyrics, at times only one or two lines, allows for repetition and emphasis of these lines; each repetition boring the lyrics further and further into the listener's mind, compounding the effect that they already have.
The most mystifying aspect of Nothing Feels Good is not the preeminence of the components that form it, rather it is the combination and interlacing of the components; all acting together and promoting each other to intensify the power of the music. Each member of the band, instead of focusing on the importance of their individual roles, concentrates on coalescing with the other members, feeding off and complementing their work; the group truly acting as a band. This characteristic of the music makes it seem as though they have been playing music together for their entire lives; every note in the right place, no one person overplaying their hand.
The cohesion of the unit is furthered by the thought-out construction and sequencing of the album, each track earning its place in the order and playing its role in the formation and runtime of the album. Even the intermission track, How Nothing Feels, is placed at precisely the right point, allowing the listener the ability to recover from the alacrity of the first half, and prepare themselves for the second.
It is through, the employment of all these streamlining measures, that The Promise Ring
have created an almost flawless album; more accessible than their rough-around-the-edges debut and, consequently, more poppy as well. This new-found poppyness is, however, backed up by powerful and pertinacious songwriting, making the thirty-five minute runtime seemingly race by. The powerful songwriting, catchy hooks and simplistic lyrics make for an enjoyable listen, whilst maintaining the sentimentality and emotion of The Promise Ring's
sound; strengthening the meaning of both the group as a whole as well as their output.
Nothing Feels Good, is an album that expands upon the sound previously established by The Promise Ring
, but does so in a manner that enhances the meaning they had already created; forging an album that is not only an opus in their discography, but an opus in the emo genre.