originally published 19 february 2020 on rateyourmusic.com
I think I'm finally ready.
I know all of us have been feverishly anticipating my review of The Brave Little Abacus' Just Got Back From The Discomfort -- We're Alright, and truthfully, I have not felt I had anything worthy to say on such a masterpiece.... until tonight. So, despite it being Mercury Retrograde, I will try my best to do this album justice. For you.
Now, the majority of my knowledge about midwest emo/post-hardcore comes from La Dispute and Dance Gavin Dance - both of which being much more polished acts (and a bit more abrasive too). But I think having that foundation made this album an especially interesting venture, because it introduced me to a wildly different iteration of the same musical motifs.
For one, TBLA feels very organic. It sounds as if they recorded the entire band together in one huge studio take (which may or may not be true, but I'm almost positive), because you can hear each corner of the room in the reverberations, and there's an endearing lack of control over volume/clarity throughout the album. I don't view these as bad things at all; in fact, the embracing of sonic imperfection makes the lyrical message feel that much more sincere. The same goes for Adam Demirjian's vocals - I love the way he calls himself out with "The fact I hate the way I talk" in It's Not What You Think It Is; like a proud declaration of insecurity. And the PALPABLE passion in his delivery of every single line?? The man fucks, clearly.
As for the message itself: I have honestly never heard something so unabashedly, threateningly vulnerable. Lines like "When I say I'm sad I mean it/ there is no excuse, I need this", or the declaration of "I think I'll leave this place now/ go to summer where the sun don't go down", communicate this beautiful power that can be gained from embracing your Otherness, your weaknesses. It sounds like crying in public. It sounds like sweating profusely while dancing; like hugging someone so hard that you forget to worry about all the awkward contours of your body. I call this threatening because it has been so foreign to me for the majority of my life. In the first few listens, my instinct was to write this album off as something I can't relate to. But really, how often do I CHOOSE not to relate to certain works, simply because they hit too close to home? How often do I deny myself the right to feel insecure, to feel seen, to feel known?
I'll admit I've been thinking about vulnerability a lot recently, which is the main reason I felt like returning to this album. But I think few albums communicate it as viscerally as this one does. And let's not understate the simple fact that this is a compositional MASTERPIECE, beginning to end. The momentous rise and fall of energy, the deliberate use of brass and other quirky instruments to color each track, the sheer POETICISM of the lyrics... just like I said about Solange: not a single bad song on this album. Ones I hold especially close are Can't Run Away, A Highway Got Paved Over My Future, and Bug-Infested Floorboards.
In conclusion? To everyone who recommended this album to me: you were right.