Brandtson – Trying to Figure Each Other Out

Trying to Figure Each Other Out

Oh boy. That’s what you’re thinking right? I know it is, because that’s exactly what I thought when I pulled this one from the mailbox. A Deep Elm release. Brandtson. The EP is called Trying to Figure Each Other Out. I bet you’re picturing the band right now: four skinny white guys, each with tight T-shirts and thick black glasses. They probably write poetry and *gasp* read books and stuff. I mean, by now everyone should probably be tired of this cookie-cutter emo shit anyway right? Well, maybe.
Before I heard this new Brandtson EP, I was almost sure that Deep Elm was becoming dangerously close to a Victory Records for the emo scene: a one-dimensional label that hosts a whole bunch of similar-sounding bands, with a couple of exceptions (for example, Victory has Boy Sets Fire and Deep Elm has Planes Mistaken for Stars, etc.). Thankfully, Brandtson has done an admirable job of making me a believer again.
Why has Brandtson had this kind of effect on me? Well, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is the best release all year, because, to be blunt (and honest), its not. What this is is a remarkable example of an emo band finally making a progression. Brandtson has long been one of Deep Elm’s flagship bands, and I have long considered them the quintessential emo band. Four guys playing strong, hook-laden songs with some minimalist guitar work and an off-key vocalist, all performed very tightly. So forgive me if I was unimpressed when Brandtson occasionally showed some promise (such as on their heavy riffage hook-fest “Blindspot” from their debut release Letterbox).
Trying to Figure Each Other Out, while still being distinctly emo, has taken the band to another level. The singer is finally on-key, and he’s rather enjoyable. The guitar work is superb, going from the bouncy rhythms of “12th & Middle” to the shoegazing wall of noise that erupts during “Bricks and Windows.” What’s even better are the hooks. No longer do these guys drag incomprehensible poetry out over plinking guitars. Instead the album contains real melodies, such as the sing song-y “Leaving Ohio” and the absolutely infectious “Boys Lie.” The latter, despite the somewhat juvenile sentiments the title employs, is probably the best song here. If you’re like me and you never thought anyone would be able to make the line “boys lie/thanks guys” into an anthem, then you need to hear this song.
The lyrics are also somewhat of an improvement. While no one in Brandtson approaches Dylan-esque poetry (and you can hardly blame them since no one does), the lyrics are actually upbeat and positive for the most part. Some of them still bring to mind the kind of things preteen girls might enjoy while sifting through their first issue of Seventeen, but some of them are downright amazing. The following line opens “Grace Thinks I’m a Failure” and it gets my vote for the best emo lyric all year: “She said that I’m a shining star in her sky/and I feel that far away.” Wow.
So what this all amounts to is probably the best Deep Elm release all year and an EP that is roughly 50 times as interesting as anything the Promise Ring have ever done. These seven songs (and one astonishingly misguided foray into techno hidden after the last track) are so laced with sappy sentiments and melodies that it reminds me of why I was attracted to emo in the first place. I’m really not supposed to like this kind of stuff anymore (the jaded too-indie-for-though rock critic that I have become…), but, quite frankly, I can’t stop listening to this record. Just listen to the dual-vocals bridge toward the end of “Boys Lie,” right before another anthemic chorus erupts, and tell me that emo sucks. Watch out though, this album might just make you believe again.