Review Summary: make sure that the sin and the glitter is goneMaybe I'm a friend that stuck around too long.
sounds like it was written through the grimy window of a tour van. You've probably composed this album in your head dozens of times, on a roadtrip with mates or after a particularly bad argument, but never committed it to tape. You've imagined yourself belting it out to those kids who gave you shit in high school or a years-old crush, wowing them into silence with your honesty and sincerity and pop-punk songwriting acumen. Befitting of an album like that, it's clumsy and awkward and fumbles for deeper meaning, but it can be hard to hold these sometimes endearing traits against Pemberton when the band clicks together and the songwriting rises to the occasion.
This happens for the first time in "Tendencies", a song that powerwalks its way to a hook tailormade to vibrate the windows in bars and pubs. Pemberton have shown their aptitude for great choruses already with "A Funny Thing Happened on a Way to the Morgue", so it's a genuine surprise when "Tendencies" takes a hard left turn and Jared Grimm switches to a piercing scream to end the hook. Grimm's vocal aptitude is a big point in the band's favour – he croons, yells and gently falsettos his way through song after song, even sustaining the harsh scream for an entire verse in "Casual Existential Despair" to briefly transform the song from rock into something from the 90s with a French name you'd find on bandcamp. Grimm and keyboardist Jack Paech also show an inclination towards great harmonies, especially during the power-pop banger "Anything/You" which recalls Aussie legends Trial Kennedy, but these moments are far too sparing and buried in a mix which never figures out if it's lo-fi or well-polished. Grimm's excellent performance, often energised by the airtight performance of rhythm section Slade Richardson and Damon Lloyd, helps to sell lyrics which are largely mired in the same topics every band in this genre has ever written about. "Tapleys Hill" channels a Wil Wagner confessional style for some solid lines about filthy habits and self-disgust, but the five-minute song sidelines the rhythm section of the band for far too long in favour of flickering down to an anticlimax. "When A Wise Man Points to the Moon" relies on a thrashing instrumental and attention-grabbing first line to shake off the previous song's apathy, but still loses its way without a clear melodic throughline during its very brief runtime.
It's hard to avoid feeling that the band do both styles better with "To Live is the Way Out", a clear standout and just batshit crazy song which builds from a Damien Rice-esque piano twinkle and a slow bluesy guitar vamp to a climax with blastbeats, screaming and a solo that would make the best Guitar Hero player you know blush. It's the kind of tune a band might write three albums in to break the mould, which makes its appearance on Pemberton's debut all the more impressive; even amongst the genre-switching and bold stylistic shifts, the song has an obvious emotional anchor which keeps it grounded, something the band would do well to maintain on other songs. This quality is the one thing "Way Out" has in common with its otherwise polar opposite, "Chemicals", a closing track which sees the entire band cede the spotlight to Richardson for a raw life experience about a family member fallen into drug addiction. Both the lo-fi nature of the song and Richardson's Kinsella-esque accent are initially off-putting, especially after the genre-hopping of the previous two songs, but deeper listens of the song reveal a genuine, weary emotional depth that the album's other lyrics notably lack.
The inclusion of "Chemicals" is another indication that Pemberton have more up their sleeves than their modest sound might initially suggest, and hints towards future releases being bolder and cleverer with their songwriting choices. It's no coincidence that my favourite part of Maybe I'm a friend that stuck around too long.
is the title track, a minute-long interlude which sees a moving piano fugue a la Blink's "Stockholm Syndrome Interlude" accompany a recorded phone call. It's nothing groundbreaking, but the album's strange production comes in good for once when the specifics of the phone call are largely lost against the rising and falling of the keys: another lost opportunity for communication in a sea of missed calls. It's both the clearest articulation of Pemberton's obsession with failed relationships, and a great demonstration of the band's potential when they get out of their own way and let the music flow.