September 15, 2012

Review: Everyone Everywhere | Everyone Everywhere (2012)

We flip through Martin Esslin's "The Theater of the Absurd" occasionally, driven by a recollection of how the book miraculously seemed to illuminate everything -- not just theater, not just literature -- when we read it a couple decades back. Criticism of texts concerned with the innate absurdity of the human condition and the inane social constructs created to deal with it: it seemed like the ultimate decoder ring for a disaffected late teen.

And while we can never regain that feeling of encountering a unified theory of everything within the pages of the book, its summation of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming," seems particularly relevant to the work of Philadelphia-based emo heroes Everyone Everywhere: "the play presents a sequence of realistic (or at least realistically explicable) events which at the same time could be, might well be, fantasy, a wish-fulfillment dream. On either level the play makes sense. But its poetic force lies in the ambivalence between them."

It's a broad leap, the one that gets you from criticism of modern theater to the key to the latest record by a superlative contemporary punk rock act, but not an impossible one. Everyone Everywhere's wide-eyed observations and elegant arrangements of electric guitars, vocals and harmonies, and rhythm section regularly steer toward the absurd. One of many highlights from the band's first full-length (also self-titled, an especially absurd move post-Weezer), the song "Music Work Paper Work," contains the lyric "look in the mirror and try to raise one eyebrow... it's pretty weird." Out of context it seems like an arch statement, but the majority of Everyone Everywhere fronter Brendan McHugh's lyrics address the mundane and frame it with a sense of innocent wonder. And maybe it's delivered with a wink and maybe it's not: as stated supra, the poetic force lies in the ambivalence. Accepting that ambiguity doesn't render confronting it any less tiring, however, as acknowledged by McHugh's weary yen for escape in opener "I Feel Exhausted" ("live in daydreams / I choose fiction / I feel exhausted"). Indeed, ambiguity (a critic dealing with a larger subject might instead here say modernity) and efforts to confront it echo the attractive, prickly friction between Mr. McHugh's Slacker-styled lyrical bent and the cracking, buoyant punk the quartet (rounded out by drummer Brendan Graham, guitarist Tommy Manson and bassist Scottoline) emits.

The music on the new long-player is as bracing as ever, and it continues to rely on big melodies, pulse-quickening tempos, wiry guitar leads and well-measured dynamics to please the palate of today's discerning indie rocker. Everyone Everywhere has somehow managed to up its already very substantial pop game to Davey Von Bohlen-levels of genius, a prime example of which is album closer "Wild Life," which would have been at home on any of the recent Maritime LPs. Like those of New Order's Bernard Sumner, McHugh's lyrics have historically seemed less than weighty ("Cool Pool Keg Toss Pete" from the 2008 EP A Lot Of Weird People Standing Around describes a really awesome party), but succeed every time because of a throbbing emotional resonance. On the new collection they are perhaps as emotional as the tag "emo" suggests: far from playfully threatening to throw an empty keg and lawn chairs into a pool, McHugh here is anxious, worried, sweating the big things and deeply personal things. The stunning emotional core of the record is laid bare during the chorus to "No Furniture," when -- after describing the atmosphere of a recently cleaned-out apartment, collateral damage to a collapsed relationship -- the rhythm section and guitars back off and McHugh pleads "spare me the car ride home." He desperately reasons "we can move around, do nothing, say nothing" and later, sardonically, "I guess it's fine we can all go and do whatever we want." It's a tragic resignation to a new reality. And it is the sort of powerful narrative that, coupled with the band's increasingly deft composition, leads this reviewer to where he doesjn't want to go, because the assessment oversimplifies the very significant accomplishment that is Everyone Everywhere (2012): the new record is the product of maturity as much as it is a product of skill. Whatever the reason, Everyone Everywhere, self-released by the band last month and available for sale right here on blue-green vinyl and digital download, is a triumph.

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