As bands like Able Baker Fox, Into It. Over It., Citizen and Tiger’s Jaw have emerged (or reappeared, in some cases), the resurgence of emo has become a discussion point, but longtime fans have been very, very careful about getting on board with it to this point. A lot of that has to do with the fact that fans know this has been a thing before: bands like Weezer, Dashboard Confessional, Alexisonfire (and Moneen both by extension and to a certain degree) have come along through the years sporting another great great hope, but it has never come together quite the right way.
At least initially, the aforementioned new wave of emo looked like it was going to tread a similar soulless line – but Muskets has come along now with their sophomore album Chew and brought the heart back to the music as well as the real chance of a genuine revival. Here, Muskets go out of their way to really embody the original spirit of the style (think Fugazi, Girls Against Boys, Rites of Spring, Braid and Embrace – the stuff which came before the mainstream got their hands on music and blanched it) and can both win the uninitiated as well as assuage the older guard without a whole lot of resistance after they’ve given the album a chance.
Right off, Muskets waste no time smashing through the glass walls that older emo-core fans have erected around themselves for isolation/protection from the mawkish, more radio-ready fare which was once peddled as “emo” after the first wave crested and receded around 1998, and start prying those minds open to hear what they’ve got to offer. With “Pond Drop,” singer/guitarist Alex Cheung and bassist Dan Smith set up a fantastic give-and-take between each other which just seethes as it also singes the synapses of listeners. The power possessed by that duo is impressive, but when it’s topped by Cheung’s true-toned snarl and given form by Joe Phillips’ drumming, it becomes its own force of nature. After falling into gear (at around the 45-second mark), listeners will be just pummeled into submission by the group’s combined assault. Those expecting a cutesy permutation of emocore will be sorely disappointed; Weezer fans need not apply.
After setting the initial precedents for what Chew will be with “Pond Drop,” Muskets continue putting fresh, muscular flesh on the skeletal structure of old-school emo. “17 Years” follows with some anthemic plaints and a bass tone which can change the emotional state of anyone within earshot from “Fair” to “Furious.” Immediately thereafter, “Decay” recalls the glory days of Grunge and Alt-Rock – complete with growling, chorus pedal-touched guitars and quietverse/loud chorus dynamics – before “Chewing Gum” tries to petulantly set the whole world on fire with balls-out and angry guitars, stampeding drums and Cheung’s best, most potent performance on the A-side of the album.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that “Chewing Gum” is not the conclusion of Chew‘s A-side (after this, “Breathing” really leans on the band’s UK background and has moments which come close to sounding like a hardcore-inspired version of Oasis), but there’s no question that “Chewing Gum” is the A-side’s thematic pinnacle; it is the song which will have listeners hooked and happily changing sides expectantly when the moment is right.
As the B-side begins, “Frankie Stable” sees Muskets pouring on a little more uniquely “United Kingdom” sonic seasoning (read:the accents are very evident on the vocals) before coming shockingly close to infusing “Could You Wait?” with too much Weezer-esque pop. Even so, they’re able to recover and find a better center again with the hard feelings anthem, “You’re So Cool.” There, Muskets line up their anger, emotion and hardcore angling just exactly as they had it in the early playing of Chew’s A-side and prove perfectly that they weren’t just fumbling in the dark – it’s a great and refreshing turn for the side, upheld strongly by “Truck” (which loses no steam in spite of being the longest song on the album) and the resignation of side-closer “Umbilical.” That end resolves the rocky start of the B-side beautifully.
And, standing back from it, how does Chew measure up in regards to its ambition and presentation? First, it would be untrue to say that the album is flawless – but the album’s strengths far outweigh the foibles. Each time a questionable moment hits listeners, it’s quickly followed by a whole sequence of great ones which can easily make the duds forgettable. Because of that, it’s easy to conclude that Muskets haven’t reached the highest point of their potential quite yet; Chew is definitely great,but it also leaves listeners certain that they’re capable of more – and that’s really exciting.
(No Sleep Records)
The Chew LP is out now. Buy it here, directly from No Sleep’s website: store.nosleeprecords.com/products/v2/260109/chew-orange.