The Lawrence Arms - Apathy and Exhaustion
I've been on something of a pop punk binge recently. After having a religious experience listening to No Use for a Name's Live in a Dive
CD during a car ride to a carnival, I have been kicking out the Fat Wreck and Epitaph jams non-stop. I decided to review All's Mass Nerder
and now I'm moving onto another band that was a big part of the music that dominated my sophomore year of high school: The Lawrence Arms. See, back then I could go on and on about what I liked but not necessarily explain why I liked it. And now that I'm armed with a whole lot of ear training and nostalgia I'm going to revisit some crucial albums.
I came across The Lawrence Arms' Apathy and Exhaustion
from a pop-up e-card on www.punkhardcore.com back in the day. I only heard 30 seconds of "I'll Take What's in the Box, Monty," but after that I knew I had to buy the CD. This band is just immediately catchy, which has something to do with a special, fun x-factor the band has, but mostly comes from a having a certain formula to their songs. The instruments are a step above those of most other pop punk bands (but below No Use for a Name's and Lagwagon's), and they write directly inbetween the gruff, Chicago-style punk they were geographically influenced by, and the Fat Wreck melodic style, which coincides with their signing to Fat Wreck after their first LP. Also, all of their songs benefit from two contrasting vocalists, one a gruff, sloppy punk singer, and the other a youthful, earnest, almost poppy, clean singer. To make their case even stronger, nearly all of their lyrics linger on subject of either drunken antics, or lost love, which, when linked with the vocal presentation, is a pretty devastating combination. And though it seems trite as I write out this formulaic approach to songwriting, the result actually sounds new and refreshing in execution. I feel that this band just writes massively likeable songs, using a generally catchy rubric. Even those of you who have tired of melodic punk hooks may find something new in this CD.
The CD as a whole is also fairly well paced. The gruff and clean singing is alternated roughly every song, giving each style a break from one another to refresh the listener, and making every turn feel crisp and new. Also, another reason for this good pacing is that the music is mostly fast-paced but there are always moments in the songs where the drums break into half-time and the guitars pull out to leave the singer ballading near a cappella. These moments not only roll over the energy of the album, but they also are heartwrenchingly catchy with lyrics like, "I'm gonna remember that you are my friend. / And fall asleep on the floor" (from "Boatless Booze Cruise Volume 1") that tap into a fraternizing, bacchanalian language, and "Is there a gesture I could use / to clearly express / I'm at an utter loss for words" (from "Brick Wall Views") that tap into a wistful, love-beaten language, both of which may be cliché, but are more importantly painfully honest and touching when enjoyed at the denouement of their respective songs. That's another great part of this album; there always seems to be a catchy coda or denouement at the end of their songs that cap off each lyric, like a good toast or moral-of-the-story. They usually include a reprise of a certain lyrical idea, and an instrumental backdrop that raises the tension and then spills it all over the place in an emotive way. It's such a killer (and yes, trite) technique that slays me every time I heard it.
Okay, so I'll admit that this band uses tons of corny formulaic devices to write their songs, but the feeling is there and The Lawrence Arms have a penchant for blotting out the typical reaction I get from hearing generic hooks. It's just too catchy and fun to deny for being hackneyed from a songwriting perspective.
Recommended Tracks (gruff vocals): I'll Take What's in the Box Monty, Navigating the Windward Passage, 3am QVC Shopping Spree Hangover
Recommended Tracks (clean vocals): Brick Walls Views, Your Gravest Words, Right As Rain part 2