Review Summary: Rhythm and blues and emo.
Recently I’ve been growing disillusioned with my usual music scenes. All Swancore bands are playing the same stuff, the emo revival is bloated with Mineral-worship bands playing their twinkly guitars like it’s something I’ve never heard before, and I’m not even sure if the Front Bottoms should be called folk anymore as they’ve moved into the indie-pop field of a thousand other bands. Thankfully we have Bay Faction, a trio based out of Boston. Taking a rather unique step into traditional rock and mixing in vocals dripping with melodrama creates what is easily one of the best emo albums of the year and easily the most creative I’ve heard in a long time.
This is indie rock done right, plain and simple. Gentle bass moves the songs forward at a steady pace while the guitar play rings and reverberates to create a nice smokey tone. From time to time the band throws in George Benson-esque jazz guitar overtop their blues licks to create a catchy signature sound that is prevalent across the album. There’s even some island-reggae influence like on the song ‘Captive Cows’ to add some extra flair; their love for The Police is quite clear. Best of all, the band knows how to craft a song. They don’t waste your time with excessive amounts of guitar solos or vocal bridges. Instead, their songwriting style has more in common with punk bands like Joyce Manor and Minor Threat than it does traditional rock; they get in and get out. The songs often end abruptly after one last swelling chorus which is very unusual for their rather slow and methodical speed and it’s a welcome change of pace from the usual long fade outs found in their peers like Moose Blood or Balance and Composure.
At only eight tracks it’s hard to get tired of their sound but it is obvious that they have a strict formula and they stick to it. Take the vocals; every single song features at least some variation of “whoa oh oh” and a slightly harmonized chorus. Instrumentally they recycle the intro riff of ‘Captive Cows’ on ‘Coyote’ just two tracks later and echoes of it are heard again later on ‘Jasper Wildlife Assoc.’ Due to the reuse of lyrical themes across these three tracks I assume that it was a purposeful choice but it comes across as somewhat lazy considering that there are so few tracks on here. While still a great riff its magic is seriously damaged by repetition.
Yet lyrically is where this album truly shines. It’s truly telling that even while we’re in the middle of an incredibly talented emo revival Bay Faction is able to stand out as one of the best when it comes to writing. Rather than playing up nostalgia like The World Is a Beautiful Place or going deeply metaphorical like Foxing they take a far more blunt route to excellent results. There’s something remarkably enjoyable about hearing singer James McDermott plainly say “I started catching feelings for the girl that I’m currently having sex with so it’s safe to say we don’t talk anymore” rather than puzzling apart some obscure in-joke or allusion to poetry. Just like the instrumentals, he never goes completely over the top with needless existential pains. This isn’t to say that McDermott is a poor lyricist or avoids metaphors, far from it. Loneliness, sanity, and (for some reason) references to his best friend Jasper are found throughout the album. Likewise animal motifs fill this album, most common being his and his ex-lover’s dealings with coyotes. As a metaphor for various troubles sometimes he is the coyote, sometimes she is, sometimes they’re both stalked by the creatures. Coyotes are all around this album and on every song; not one track can be called upbeat or happy.
His lyrics are nothing if not relatable to the emotional soul. My favorite song, ‘Cutter,’ is a rather straight-forward depiction of McDermott’s failed relationship with a self-harming girl. My last serious relationship was with a lovely woman who fought against (and frequently lost to) the numbness of depression as well so it’s very cathartic to hear someone else deftly describe the position of being madly in love with another person that you simply cannot save no matter what you try. The metaphor of having his head blown to pieces by the girl’s actions is very apt as well, but even better is that he doesn’t rid himself of guilt which is something quite nice to hear in a scene where most people duck blame and go straight to anger or intense depression.
These cleanly delivered lamentations and blues based instrumentals weave together perfectly to create something distinct in today’s music scene. There’s no twinkle on here, no grand explosion of sorrow, just a dull and constant ache covered by a blues crafted haze. There is both beauty and rage within that pain as displayed by the final track ‘Jasper Wildlife Assoc.’ which is one of the only songs to feature screamed vocals making it much more powerful. It’s that emotional balance that makes it such a breathe of fresh air. In a musical landscape so often showing only the most extreme of pains Bay Faction catches and display melancholy in a way no one else has yet.