Review Summary: This review takes place somewhere in the Midwest
Not many musical genres can get under your skin the way emo can. Every category may potentially strike a listener straight at their core, but the methods they employ aren’t quite the same. Maybe it seems silly to have to define this—after all, the term is simply short for ‘emotional,’ which seems self-explanatory enough—but I’m not content leaving it there, as it doesn’t begin to truly describe how a given emo record feels. Something like Home, Like NoPlace is There is an almost exhausting listening experience. From one track to the next, you’re dealt an incredible punch to the gut with a vulnerable vocal performance, devastating lyrics, and delicately melodic guitars. Each note awakens a sensitive piece of life that had been forcibly tucked away; by the end of the album, the misery of the band has transformed into your own, rendering both realities indistinguishable for the other. No matter your current disposition, emo religiously tears into the very soul, dredging up all the insecurities, regrets, and traumas it can lay its hands on. This massive purging, a catharsis of repressed memories, is absolutely draining. It feels as though the mind has finished an excruciatingly long marathon. For reasons like this, I find visiting an emo record difficult on occasion, if only because it takes so much out of you. Even if the ultimate expedition bears immense power and sounds damn amazing, the cost paid by the audience could border on total. In the end, the duality of the positive and negative attributes of the genre equal a somewhat paradoxical reaction.
When browsing through new releases, therefore, the emo classification might as well be a landmine. The category suffers from the same issue of overloading as any other in existence, burying the heavy-hitting albums under the figurative compost. Combined with the general tedium of sorting through average upon average product, a seemingly ordinary disc may suddenly explode beneath your feet. It makes my established contradictions even more palpable—whether emo music is even pleasant to begin with, or if the pain outweighs the pleasure. I’d instead wager that what I’m trying to do here is ramble to cover up for the fact that Barely Civil caught me with my guard down while I was sorting through new records, sipping on coffee and relaxing in an armchair as time slipped by. Enjoyably ordinary had been the name of the game for the last handful of weeks, keeping any depressing thought under wraps. Nearly forty minutes later, I’m stuck in the same seat, cursing at an unknown Wisconsin four-piece for making me worry about something outside of the temperature of my drink.
We Can Live Here Forever
is all about being disconnected—disconnected from relationships, disconnected from a dot on a map that’s supposed to be home, disconnected from anyone around you. It can get lonely, it can get frustrating, and it could even bring out anger. This is all made clear through the opening shouts of “I’ve Been Getting Headaches Lately,” vocalist-guitarist Connor Erickson’s soft voice contemplating things lost while his bandmates chant “You won’t take mine!” in the background. From there, the melodic, pop-rock-tinged lead riff of “Lost//Found” kicks in, every note seemingly drifting along as a dream. The lyrics flow smoothly, seamlessly out of the speakers, lulling me into a sort of trance, and it takes a moment after the sound ends until I realize I’m still wondering if I’ll manage to truly be found somewhere. Barely a few moments pass and the gentle strumming of “Eau Claire"” proceeds to once again float above as if given an ethereal quality by the subtlety generated by the group. While I could’ve sworn Erickson and friends were looking upon a Wisconsin metropole when they composed the track, I instead saw myself, two years younger, laying my eyes upon a hole-in-the-wall town in Appalachian Ohio and wondering if this was really where I belonged.
The Knapsack-approved “RE: Your Lungs” continually launches into a repetitive, anthem-worhty refrain, the verses detailing how the last significant relationship I had was characterized by arrivals and departures, leaving me muttering to myself in the darkness of my dorm room that it’s alright. Led slowly by restrained drumming, “Handwritten House” converses about the suicidal friend I had in my life, who constantly worried me, reminding me about the long nights we’d spend looking into the night sky and contemplating why we still remained under it. Any notion of longing is suddenly replaced by upbeat, aggressive-sounding riffing, running straight from the self-critical “You With A Cape…”—featuring my past self staring into a mirror, berating everything it displays—and the similarly faster-tempo “Stark,” where the chords and lyrics drip with nostalgia, causing more reminiscing about carefree days in an old neighborhood where the principle worry revolved around how much longer we could ride bikes before the sun set. Companion tune “Kent” replays an image where I’m saying goodbye to someone I’ve known for almost a tenth of my life and certainly gave the whole, knowing fully well that whatever we had was coming to an agonizing closure.
Only when “Super 8//Marathon” barges in with gusto—even Cap’n Jazz might nod in approval--does the awareness settle in that I’ve been writing about my own life, my own pain, and that Barely Civil have opened me up in a surgical manner. I blink and I notice that the Word document before me is now painted in the colors of all my lurking insecurities. Intentional or not, I figure out in a shock that We Can Live…
exploded beneath my feet; the safety net that was ‘enjoyably ordinary’ has been dismantled. Gathering a collection of influences across the emo classics, We Can Live…
arranges a performance that identifies as their own, but in a comfortably familiar fashion. General stereotypes are side-stepped gracefully, with songwriting varied exceptionally well through the rock-out tracks (“You With A Cape…”) and the more nuanced, pensive additions (“Kent”). Passion, honesty, energy—the virtues of music creation elevated above other criterion—resonate through each members’ contributions. The result is a record that is crafted and executed with genuine care. I tried to attach meaning to the occurrence, explain it away, not entirely willing to accept that such a random listening endeavor could reach me so strongly.
That objective, critically-inclined part of my brain wants to dispel every single word crafted here and replace it all with scathing commentary. An argument brews in the back of my head, attempting to point out how We Can Live…
isn’t necessarily original compared to previous acts, instead borrowing from established norms. The imaginary review contends that the singing is not honest and exposed, but rather weak, not befitting for the instrumental content. Perhaps the album isn’t special in the slightest; my concentration must have lapsed, or some other factor intervened that caused me to consider this output something important to talk about. Beyond all else, there is a fury building in intensity—fury directed at a release that maybe I shouldn’t like, but still did. In all truthfulness, I would prefer to provide that seemingly conscious, albeit superficial review with the right voice, the perfect execution, and rip into every facet of Barely Civil. But I’m still laying my eyes upon a hole-in-the-wall town in Appalachian Ohio and wondering if this was really where I belonged, eventually coming to the conclusion that “I Am Drowning.” I still could’ve sworn I was supposed to be in Wisconsin.