It’s summer. While my neighbor is out tending flowers in jean shorts and embracing the sunshine, I’m content letting the hot days waste away behind shutters and Netflix marathons while I curse those who are way too optimistic about sunlight for their own good. It’s supposed to be a cheery time of year, but having grown up in the American southwest,1 the blue sky never ends and I hate it. So when a cold little emo album lands in my lap from the Angry Promo Gods™ to sweeten my cocoon, I’m gonna consume it as fast as possible and weepily reminisce about my hometown with the AC blasting. Lavinia is a four-piece post-rock/emo outfit from New Hampshire with members from Caspian, The Appleseed Cast, and The Burning Paris. How their Pax Aeternum sophomore effort Sallowed ended up on the angriest metal site this side of the planet, I will never know.
The keyword to emo music is nostalgia. Now, keep in mind, these aren’t your typical punk-infused My Chemical Romance worshipers you saw drawing Gerard Way anime in Mr. Thomas’ trig class in junior year.2 Instead, outfits like American Football, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) delve into the nostalgia of growing up and relationships in hypnotic and jagged forms, focusing on emotional lyrics, mathy guitar licks, and whimpering vocals. To this effect, Lavinia follows the template to a T, interpreting emo to even dreamier and post-rockier heights set by There Will Be Fireworks and A Bunny’s Caravan, spiked with densely distorted riffs that would make The Hotelier jealous. Sallowed, albeit unoriginal, is a bleakly refreshing mope-fest of cranky proportions whose humility and jaggedness keep it toeing the line between sloppiness and boredom.
The whole point of Sallowed is its bleak sullenness,3 and to that effect, every track succeeds. Tracks like “Wither” and “Last Leaves” revel in contemplative plucking and ambiance, while more upbeat tracks like “All Arms Out” and “Fall Risk” enact bleakly distorted and jaggedly chaotic riffs (a la Pianos Become the Teeth) that amp up the desperation. And while these moments are certainly worthy of mention, the real star of Lavinia‘s sound is its textures. The way they concoct melodies and rhythms is reminiscent of American Football, in that their overlapping plucking, drumbeats, rhythms, and Nate Shumaker’s solemn croons culminate in a simultaneously emotional, epic, and relaxed result. Portions of “Embers,” “Last Leaves” and the final tracks “Window” and the immense title track, are true highlights in this right, hearkening to the emo greats and the best dynamics of post-rock stalwarts Mono and Caspian in their balance of melody, angst, and complementary bass-heavy riffs.
Another trademark of emo is its jaggedness (see Snowing or Cap’n Jazz), and while much of Lavinia‘s sound comes across as intricate, it falls into sloppy territory often. Songs such as “Embers,” “Fall Risk,” and “All Arms Out” have fantastic components, but the songwriting often uses crushing riffs to their detriment. Emo song structures feel incredibly frail, and distorted riffs can easily work like a wrecking ball instead of the emotional pinnacle it was meant to be. As such, these tracks fall limp afterward. Also, generally, while Sallowed makes good use of its components, the brevity of each track can keep dynamics from fleshing out naturally, and passages often feel stitched together with jarring or absent transitions, such as in “Embers” or “Last Leaves.”
Lavinia‘s purpose with Sallowed is to paint a picture of “wanting to escape where one grew up but still loving it at the same time.” They certainly succeed, painting a jagged and complex picture full of bleak tones and lush melodies in equal measure, while reveling in the nostalgic theme. Yes, emo is jagged, and its audience very specific, so this album will not be for everyone. Sure, Lavinia can stand to let their 41-minute runtime sprawl a bit more to accommodate better dynamics, and experiment more to stand apart from their influences. But I ain’t complaining.4 Spearheaded by charismatic vocals, alternatively twinkly and crushing guitar, and a complex writing style that sometimes gets the better of them, Sallowed is a bleak little number that lends a bit of frost for my sunburnt soul to help survive the hellish heat.