Review Summary: Accepting quirks in light of an overdone genre lends to colorful exploration.
After a string of self-released EPs, Wichita based Old News have released their debut album Self-Acceptance Speech with We’re Trying Records.
Multiple press blurbs leading up to the release claimed Old News time warped out of ‘90s finger-pointing, VFW hall-packing emo and landed in the present day. But a record like Self-Acceptance Speech would have been a confusing outlier twenty plus years ago. Nor would Old News be solidly at home in the 2013 heyday of emo revivalism when noodlecore bands intentionally reached into the past for inspiration. If anything, the record is very much a product of its time: genre agnostic, polished, and self-aware.
Old News is made up of former music students who wear their proficiency, quirks, and jazz theory on their sleeves. Beau Harris leads the outfit with his sparkly riffs and confessional songwriting. Max Abood’s drumming is rooted in his metalcore origins, but is tasteful and allows for an easy dynamic push and pull. Bassist Blaine Martin subtly pulls more from Pastorius than Rick Burch, evidenced by his fills in ‘Dancing in the Light’.
Sure, Harris’ clean, alternate-tuned six-string riffing and the gorgeous accompanying accessory instrumentation may harken back to the days of yore. The lineage is more directly traced, however, to the understated math rock of Six Gallery (Harris openly professes his love for the band’s sole record). The *colourful*, rhythmic stutters of Delta Sleep are likely the most contemporary influence. This is most evident in the breakdown in ‘Happy Pills’ where syncopated chugs are interspersed with ascending melodic licks or the diversity of lead single ‘Heads Like Projectors’.
Most notably, the bookends of the record give a wink and a heavy nod to the Midwest’s most popular genre: country. ‘Pulling Teeth’ and ‘Sunday Suit’ may not go full Pinegrove (or even full Wilco), but lines like “Find me hiding under church pews again/Always looking for the answers in my sins” reflect a distorted image of the most introspective, good ol’ boy tunes your grandmother might play on the drive to 8:30 AM service. That being said, these songs aren’t a complete departure from the Old News sound. The band masterfully folds in wailed vocals, tapped guitar, and aggressive rhythms into both tracks.
Many freshman releases struggle to find their footing narratively. While Old News successfully has a fleshed out, broad vision, the overall sequencing does not present a clear, linear story. Instead of a direct plot line, the record opens with a post-break up cross-state move. This “quarter life crisis” leads Harris to reflect on his mental health issues and tumultuous childhood, filled with marital strife and religious disillusionment. These topics are tackled in episodic form. Third single ‘1917 Cherry St.’ provides the foundation and is named after the home Harris lived in during his most pivotal moments. The aforementioned ‘Sunday Suit’ and ‘Happy Pills’ are the most lyrically explicit, but none of the songs topple into cringe territory like landfill emo lyricism is oft to do. Rather, the awareness of typical genre common subject matter allows for a more tongue-in-cheek delivery (“Brand new pills and brand new potions/Brand new words and brand new motions”).
Unlike many of their contemporaries, Old News’ debut effort shows a fully realized vision: that they are comfortable being themselves. Playful yet solid, honest yet self-aware. Self-Acceptance Speech may be Harris’ statement of accepting where he stands, but don’t mistake that for complacency. Old News are sure to be nothing but.
1917 Cherry Street
Heads Like Projectors