Treasure State – Migration

Treasure State

Underground guitar rock has been sailing through choppy waters for the last couple of years. Any guitar band without a discernable schtick seems to be concentrating as much on not getting labeled “emo” as developing any sort of distinct sound. Fortunately, that much-maligned, ill-defined genre has a few easily avoidable markings that bands have been warned about (naming your band after a calendar or month, showing the sky on your album cover, singing out of tune, etc.). All of this pretty much leads to an inevitable place in which no one can tell the difference between emo and anything else anymore. Which is fine, of course – the “genre” was based mostly on artificial labels anyway.

This doesn’t change the fact that, three years ago, I might’ve spent the first paragraph talking about how “emo” Treasure State is (as opposed to spending the first paragraph talking about what emo itself is … I digress). Now, however, I really don’t know what the fuck to think. The band avoids most of the basic emo hallmarks, save for the primarily white album art, and the Spartan melodic approach – exemplified gorgeously on the opening track “Arrivals / Departures” – immediately sets the band apart from the wailing/flailing over-the-top melodies of the Deep Elm sect.

The trio, in its best moments, is reminiscent of a curiously driven Low or a preposterously slow Fugazi. Their strongest songs are the ballads, where singer/guitarist Robert Mercer’s pining voice has no chance to creak and break, and no one’s reminded of his limited range. The band’s most overt pop moment, “The New Elysian Fields,” is a charming chimer, relying almost entirely on the plink and jangle of Mercer’s horny electric guitar. It’s also the only upbeat track the band manages with any degree of success. Mercer sounds confident and inspired, and he doesn’t reach for notes that aren’t there (well, most of the time). The tender, acoustic closer “Mostpeople” (sic) takes Mercer’s voice and slides it plaintively over a bed of plucked strings. The results speak to the kind of emotional intimacy that the band should aim for.

“Summer of His Youth” is the flip side of the coin. A slender ‘rocker,’ the song sees Mercer overextend his vocal abilities. The band’s rhythm section comes off as lackluster and uninterested, preferring to let Mercer’s melodies carry the track. The result has none of the hip-shaking intensity of great rock ‘n roll music, and Mercer’s melodies aren’t strong enough to make up for the lack of thrust. Similar problems arise in “Today is Persistent” and “Contest Winners.” Mercer’s contributions are too razor thin, both melodically and sonically. Something has to fill the space in these songs, and with only a paper-thin electric guitar doing the grunt-work, these songs come off as spineless and unoriginal.

The fact that the band bookends this album with interesting tracks – and more importantly, interesting tracks that contain the nothing but the base indie-rock elements – speaks volumes about Treasure State’s potential. The majority of this material is flaccid and soulless, unable to stir any emotional response or even differentiate itself from too many other underground rock acts, emo or not.