Proper.
The Great American Novel


4.0
excellent

Review

by Zack Lorenzen USER (21 Reviews)
May 12th, 2022 | 20 replies


Release Date: 03/25/2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "I want to believe there's a better place...so why can't I?"

In an 1868 essay submitted to The Nation, writer John William De Forest remarked that “the Great American Novel,” which he described as “the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence,” had not yet been created. Attempted? Sure. But ruling out works by leading novelists of his day, he insisted the country, still reeling from the physical and emotional scars of the Civil War, was too new and fractured to produce a piece of literature wholly worthy of encompassing—with the fancy stroke of prose, of course—the sentiments uniquely definitive of our national character.

In the years since, hallmarks of English classes from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Great Gatsby to The Grapes of Wrath have all been held aloft as contenders for that crown, but there remains no clear consensus on any standalone title-holder. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; a people this diverse by design would be hard-pressed to concur about the best of anything, and most narratives in question would either whitewash our bloody, imperialist legacy or ignore the persistent myths considered cornerstones to our cultural consciousness altogether. In truth, each side only makes sense contextualized against the other—but at that point you’re practically writing a history text, not a novel. De Forest’s signature phrase is thus best applied to stories that snapshot that tug-of-war between the American ideal and the American reality. As the centuries pile on, the only guarantee is that someone will consider a different Great American Novel more emblematic of that struggle than those that were in the running before.

All of which is to say it’s not any oversight of Proper’s that their The Great American Novel won’t speak for everybody. Proudly black and queer, the New York-based trio don’t shy away from foregrounding our modern (albeit hardly new) intersectional web of racist violence, class struggle, and systemic oppression from the perspective of people who couldn’t fully escape being on the receiving end of those frameworks if they tried. Based around anecdotes from vocalist/guitarist Erik Garlington’s twenties (he even suggests listeners interpret the protagonist as a contemporary Holden Caufield type), the album forms a loose narrative arc about trying to grapple with these overlapping constructs, complete with enough personal details to flesh out its voice as more emotive character discourse than detached case study.

But that’s all to be expected for established fans of the band; the real draw for newcomers is that the music finally mostly surpasses the status quo of their particular brand of pop-punk and emo. “I think a lot of bands tend to go more pop,” Garlington says of Proper’s maturation, “but I wanted to make something both challenging and undeniably catchy.” Aside from an occasional stiffness with meter and pitchy vocal delivery (pop punk is as pop punk does), that goal is certainly met; not only is any given song here punchier, more streamlined, and more distinguishable than anything from the band’s prior catalogue, they fully embrace a wider range of influences in the process.

Early tracks “Shuck and Jive” and “Red White and Blue” set the tone well, propulsive in tempo, scornfully sarcastic in verse, and packing post-hardcore riffs aplenty. The band dials it up to eleven on “McConnell,” whose brutal chugging and ominous melodies invoke every bit the devil its namesake and future corpse (can’t come soon enough!) governs like. There’s still fun-loving cheekiness to be had here, though; on the opposite end of the self-serious spectrum, “In The Van Somewhere Outside of Birmingham” is an “oh my god I’m crushing on this man” freakout brought to us by way of a mid-song chipmunk voiceover and an absolutely batshit internal monologue that’ll have you laughing in disbelief before coming back down to Earth and going “damn, that internalized toxic masculinity was kinda messed up tho.” It's also preceded by an interlude about hating haircuts, for whatever that's worth.

The moments of deeper introspection are what really root Proper to the album’s most rewarding inquiries, though. A few are sprinkled through the first half of the tracklist—of highest import, “Jean” recalls a friendship prematurely cut off and irreversibly ended after the other party ended up committing suicide in prison—but most of the nuance creeps in as the album approaches its homestretch. “The Routine” muddies the straightforward commentary about patriarchy with its gay protagonist bragging about a dead-inside streak of unsatisfying sex. “Done Talking” brings back the intensity of “McConnell” to steamroll the insinuation black people ought to act more proper (get it?) so as to not be stereotyped as a threat. And right after it, “Americana” even flips the profiling outward, seeing Garlington come closer to terms with places he’d once written off over their racist pasts or unflattering experiences.

The apex of this leg is standout banger “Huerta,” a simultaneous reclamation of Garlington’s Hispanic heritage and a desperate wish to embody a more unique (but no less stereotypical) alternate self, fantasies ranging from “a farmer in the grasslands” and “a tubist in a corrido band,” to “a telenovela stunt man.” “Just don’t want to be another dull American,” he admits, before the band breaks into a Latin groove. It’s a little corny, yeah, but at its core, so are most things about Proper’s parent genre. It’s rare and refreshing to hear the template so effortlessly transcend its usual trappings.

The Great American Novel’s conviction to unflinching, critical honesty about the black and queer experience forms a sufficient outlet for entirely justified anger, rarely straying too far into mere platitudes or misfired posturing. The problems it raises a cry against have no immediate, actionable solution, but the pain they inflict is immediate and resistant to all change. It’s fucked. This country’s fucked. We’re fucked. To some extent, most writers claiming to speak for this nation over the years reached the same conclusion. That’s just the perpetual state of the constantly-changing Great American Novel. Proper’s take on it is as legitimate an entry into the canon as anyone else’s.



Recent reviews by this author
Peregrine (USA-MA) the awful things we've donePedro the Lion Havasu
Everything Everything RE-ANIMATORHolding Patterns Endless
eastern youth 感受性応答セヨBrand New Science Fiction
user ratings (34)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
SlothcoreSam
May 12th 2022


4065 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Album of the year so far!



The review Sput needed is finally here.

Digging: Moonraker (USA-CA) - The Forest

ashcrash9
May 12th 2022


3179 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Extremely not sure why Sput is deciding to freak out about em dashes tonight but w/e. Had a draft of this in the works for a while but I owe it to this group to not "oh look a white cishet reviewer" the hell out of their decidedly not white, not cishet record. Hopefully it's fine. Giving y'all an overdue place to chat about it, if nothing else. Loving this record

SlothcoreSam
May 12th 2022


4065 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

McConnell is a one of a kind prog pop punk song. I can't think of anything else that even comes close to it.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2022


46378 Comments


really nice review, I like your writing style a lot

surprised I haven't heard this sounds entirely up my alley

Slex
May 12th 2022


13731 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Nice review!



Definitely my AOTY rn

Digging: Coheed and Cambria - Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind

parksungjoon
May 12th 2022


42924 Comments


Good writeup mate

Conmaniac
May 12th 2022


26978 Comments


hell yeah sloth recd this to me!! need to jam in full but the few ones i’ve heard r bangers

JesperL
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2022


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

niice, really glad this got a great review

album's v v good

Digging: Dream Dolphin - Dolphins Talk to You

Squiggly
May 12th 2022


429 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Sputnik sleeping on a great fucking album once again 🙃

Digging: Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

Slex
May 12th 2022


13731 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Not everyone!! Hopefully this review will get it some very well deserved attention

Atari
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2022


27361 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

so glad to finally see a review for this



potential aoty material without a doubt

Digging: Ethel Cain - Preacher's Daughter

Feather
May 12th 2022


8098 Comments


I enjoyed a few tracks from these guys in the past, definitely gunna check this out

WatchItExplode
May 12th 2022


9647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

McConnell is absolutely my song of the year up to this point

Digging: Slomosa - Slomosa

SlothcoreSam
May 13th 2022


4065 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The rating chart is looking very solid

Feather
May 13th 2022


8098 Comments


Definitely the best thing they’ve released, havnt totally settled on how I feel about it yet though. I’ll either end up absolutely loving it or listening to it maybe two more times and shelving.

Feather
May 13th 2022


8098 Comments


To elaborate, this is making me feel the way Spanish love songs does: Their album Schmaltz was a HUGE hit for me and I still adore it. Then they released Brave Faces Everyone and I pretty quickly shelved it. Something about it came across as corny to me and the fun I had on schmaltz wasn’t there for me. This is currently falling somewhere between those albums for me and I havnt yet figured out where it’ll land.

SlothcoreSam
May 13th 2022


4065 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

There were tracks on here that hit me straight away, where others kinda crept under the radar.

But listening to it as a whole, over and over again, I've found myself enjoying all the tracks in their own unique way.

It's not an album to put on shuffle, or just listen to 1 or 2 tracks, you really need to sit the whole thing through.

Their first 2 albums had some great tracks, but was less cohesive and too uniform, this however is how a band should progress its sound.

Feather
May 13th 2022


8098 Comments


“ Their first 2 albums had some great tracks, but was less cohesive and too uniform, this however is how a band should progress its sound.”

This is definitely true. I found this as a whole on my first listen much stronger than their past album which I pulled a couple songs out for a playlist and never revisited.

Project
May 20th 2022


5415 Comments


how tf did I miss this, I really liked the last one and I'll have to give this a spin immediately

SlothcoreSam
May 20th 2022


4065 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

You missing out project! This is an exciting maturation and branching out of their sound.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy