Review Summary: Emo things scrambled, subtracted and segued for the benefit of the same emo people (...and?)

Emo flagbearers-of-the-moment Home Is Where are steeped in the genre: a quick round of their socials and significant interviews will reveal a near-encyclopaedic genre knowledge and a keen awareness of where their own bramble-latticed sound sits relative to both its ongoing 5th wave and its founding fathers. One of the many auspicious things that can be said of their 2021 LP i became birds is that its homage-level engagement with touchstones Cap’n Jazz and Neutral Milk Hotel was just one facet of its wider passion: its songwriting was so focused, its peaks so palpably inspired, and its tracks so intuitively likeable (find me an emo banger that gets feet stamping quite like “assisted harikiri”!) that any celebration of its source texts was a delight to get on board with. 5th wave emo is such an endearing clutter of forward-thinking//backward-looking stylistic mayhem that being a band-about-bands is par for the course: Home Is Where have done great work in wearing this beyond pastiche.

Emo record-of-the-moment The Whaler is a very different story. It's contorted, full of loose ends, songwriting peculiarities and recurring cryptic imagery, and, although many individual moments do overtly recall other artists, it hangs together with such an uneasy balance of inner tension and stubbornly foregrounded idiosyncrasies that you will be unlikely to mistake it for anyone else. Forget such qualties as 'good', 'bad', 'ugly', and 'first attempt at a conventionally sized LP' for now - this is an awkward record, and it flies its freak flag defiantly.

The shape of the record emerges from frontwoman Brandon MacDonald’s loose narrative of jaded pathos and her increasingly warped relationship with a) selfhood (which for MacDonald is the dissociative process of self-cannibalism and regurgitation), and b) nature (epitomised by her queasy self-identification with the album’s life-extinguishing all-consuming eponym). The band sells this as the desensitization and disorientation of tragedy becoming mundane, which is unmistakably prominent, though at points more moot than their brief sets out. To see this through, they spread their net over a disorienting range of highly charged images, bold stylistic gestures and arresting changes of tone: this is as much a record for those who like their emo cathartic, propulsive and highly telegraphed as it is for those who prefer the carpet beneath their feet to disappear in a spontaneous burst of existential dread. Its target audience will either have no overwhelming preference for either camp, or will be sufficiently dazzled by the myriad new tricks that the record adds to the band's arsenal to let themselves be taken by it.

While the tricks in question run the gamut stylistically - you'll find everything from folk punk ("floral organs") to alt-country ("daytona 500") to midwestern twee ("yes! yes! a thousand times yes!"), and even a Funeral Diner-esque climactic meltdown ("lily pad pupils") - the chief attempted innovation is towards a vignetted style of songwriting, whereby individual tracks lean heavily on the rest of the tracklist to support their uneven shapes (read: reluctance to establish themselves concretely or resolve themselves with any measure of closure). The torpid “whaling for sport” is practically an anti-song to this end, with little to show for itself beyond two of the album's weakest verses, grating backing vocals, and a teased crescendo that disintegrates into nothing, offering a highly convenient launchpad for the scatty firestarter "everyday feels like 9/11". We hear this once more on "daytona 500"'s country-suffused bloodletting, by far one of the album's most inspired and inspiring moments until the band wilfully deflate the living death out of it throughout the agonising final minute-where-a-heartbreaking-bridge-might-be; following track "chris farley" is little more than a manic fragment if heard in isolation, but here it finds an ideal lull to burst in upon. With three of its four self-contained, traditionally song-shaped (uh) songs stacked back-to-back in the first three slots, the tracklist demands a great deal of cogent sequencing for the remaining, haplessly codependent songs. One can find many positives in those earlier songly-songs - “yes! yes! a thousand times yes!" does great things with strong guitar hook paired against infectious drumbeat, as does opener "skin meadow", bouncing the "Little League"-esque mantra of the title lyric into a crystalline heartattack of a build-up - yet I am still unconvinced whether The Whaler amounts to much more than the sum of its parts.

It very much should! The mutual contingency of its tracks implies as much, as does the meticulously thoughtful placement of each and every one of its subtle details. However, I cannot for the life of me find a convincing centre of narratorial gravity in MacDonald's verse or performance, both of which are integral to the record. Her despondent style and choice of motifs are consistent throughout the album, but it's a struggle to pinpoint a steady voice between her mix of the stirringly poignant (this counterfeit reality, / a perfect copy of a forgery. / & after all these years / i still look a lot like me.), the wryly banal (past the sky / there’s more sky), unabashed glib (every night, sunlight / moonlights as / moonlight), and asinine truisms (an all knowing God / doesn’t know what it’s like / to not know anything at all). The texture of her Weltanschauung is no challenge to make out, but the appropriate levels of generosity, credulity, and critical distance with which to view it are considerably less so. Her frequent reliance on Mangum-esque oblique verbiage suffers amidst this uncertainty, though her delivery does have a knack for naked pathos: "everyday feels like 9/11", "daytona 500" and "nursing home riot" benefit from this in particular.

With its chief contributor an unreliable anchor and its sense of development largely the product of blurred margins between adjacent songs, The Whaler's moments of standalone greatness come dangerously close to transcending the rest of the album altogether. Nothing wrong with that - one could say the same for many a classic emo record, and Home is Where's familiarity with the genre pantheon can easily be aligned with a keen sense of when and where to score a highlight. This record's efforts to go above and beyond genre homage in its shape and structure are, however, undercut by its failure to revoice the most tired tropes of all in its own language. If, for instance, it's a lesson in the banality of recycled trauma to hear the likes of everyday feels like 9/11 and and on september 12th, 2001 everyone went back to work from the lips of a songwriter aged four whole years old at that time, it’s either a deeply cynical one that relies on (not entirely discernible) self-awareness at the sheer facility of a deeply tired trope, or, well, just that. The ambiguity is not entirely flattering.




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user ratings (106)
3.5
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 23rd 2023


60929 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

it is here and...?

found this an extremely difficult album to review - thank you thank you thank you Kompys and Milo for two hefty leg-ups, not sure how comprehensively this maps the album but hopefully some measure of its meticulously crafted x frequently underwhelming duality pans out *beer*

PotsyTater
June 23rd 2023


10100 Comments


Legit one of the worst band names of all time

Great album cover

MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


Agreed. Terrible name

MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


Reminds me of that Hotelier album, which, also has a crappy name. And their name sucks too. Hmm…

PotsyTater
June 23rd 2023


10100 Comments


Upon closer inspection I take back what I said about the art because I’m super traumatized from looking at pictures from Yulin Festival rn and have been fantasizing all day about how if I had super powers I would fly there and fucking massacre everyone in attendance

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 23rd 2023


60929 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yulin Festival as in the world's biggest celebration of dog meat?

MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


I thought that was a wet market in Southeast Asia

PotsyTater
June 23rd 2023


10100 Comments


Yeah I was reading about what they actually do to the cats and dogs and looking at some really fucked up pictures and I am deeply not ok

PotsyTater
June 23rd 2023


10100 Comments


I knew they ate them but I didn’t know they actively tortured and terrorized them first to mAkE tHe MeAt BeTtEr

MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


Here you go, Pots! I hope you feel better! Some humans indeed do some horrific shit
https://youtube.com/watch?v=Lc2PDb7ZsFk&feature=share9

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 23rd 2023


60929 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Oh gawd

Did this start as an innocent exercise of your sadistic anti-dog impulses or?

And did you see the dog p*rn rev on the frontpage it will not make you feel better

PotsyTater
June 23rd 2023


10100 Comments


Need 2 go home and hug my cat

MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


Awful, isn’t it? I hate it too

PotsyTater
June 23rd 2023


10100 Comments


No I don’t like dogs but they are innocent creatures and any harm caused to them is disgusting and worthy of death. They are pets. We have bred them into a position of love and trust. It’s disgusting and barbaric to abuse that. And torturing them for some woo energy bullshit? 🤮🤮🤮🤮


MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


@Johnny
Wut

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 23rd 2023


60929 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Adorable cat just ran across the zebra crossing and passed me on the street I feel it understood somehow



And uh scroll down recent revs for K9 Frequencies (or better, don't)

MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


Good god?!

DocSportello
June 23rd 2023


3387 Comments


Super fun read, might check this out idk

My housemate’s mom is in the process of moving so we have her cat for a few more weeks and I’ve been bonding with it a ton. She’s kinda crosseyed and makes v funny sounds and its fuckin adorable, love cats so much

MoM
June 23rd 2023


5994 Comments


Awww, i love cats too! Kitties!

PotsyTater
June 23rd 2023


10100 Comments


Derpy cats are the best 🥰



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