“Is emo still a thing?” is a pretty legitimate question in a time when Gerard Way is arguably better-known for amazing comic books than My Chemical Romance, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is and you want to listen to some from Houston. Crashes by Mockingbird Brother is a hell of a good case that there’s still life in the genre yet.
And the new EP will be released tonight in Houston at Bohemeo's.
It’s a sort of a concept album in search of a tale, but that nebulous quest for a larger meaning without any barriers is actually what makes the record a lot of fun. It’s definitely the most instrumental-heavy pop/rock album I’ve heard in while. Both “sides” open and close with meandering atmospheric compositions that match the themes of disastrous up and downs making up the backbone of the album’s soul.
By far the best tune on Crashes is “Hurricane,” which segues perfectly out of the mists of Side A's "Take Flight!" with a headlong pop punk vibe backed by a carnival synth. Chris Dunaway, Phillip Zimmerle and JT McCarthy let the song simmer at full speed like a Cure track before busting in for a three-part shared vocal that puts your head right through the wall. It’s most triumphant, with a happy self-destructive feel that gets the blood pumping. McCarthy in particular is a gift of a drummer who infuses the track with incredible energy.
Crashes is never quite as good as “Hurricanes” again, partially because it’s one of the best songs of the year so far. Still, Side A is a very well-put together mini-EP. “Sick Structure” is devilishly clever with a sinister horror synth line that is probably ironic but works anyway. It’s the lyrics that absolutely kill me. They have a biting relationship to religion that is a coin flip of holy and profane. In one verse it’s about how Jesus said to love one another, and then in the next it’s all about how the Son of God would flip over tables and chase assholes out of the temple. That latter one is immediately followed by definitely ironic church organ. It reminds me of the first Folk Family Revival record, but twitchier.
Side B is more mundane and pedestrian. There are far fewer experimental bits and the songs trade their energy for pathos. I think “Falls Apartment” is one of the most clever song titles of the 21st century, but the song itself plods safely in the groove a lot of other bands have already worn. The rage seems sincere, but lacks originality.
The side finishes strong with “Dry Heave/In Ruins.” It’s the song that most seems to capture what made emo worth listening to in the first place. Zimmerle’s noodly guitars give the track a plateau to stand and scream the album’s final message on, and the arena vocals in the end make for a good exclamation point. It’s not original, but it’s loud, proud and unapologetic.
Crashes is a damned good way to start of 2019. It’s an unafraid collection of tracks that are in love with ascensions and suicide dives. Sometimes it’s a slave to its genre a bit too much, but when Mockingbird Brother branches out they take songs to some marvelous places.