EPs, while less robust than full albums, can make for interesting listens, because they provide a candid picture of where an artist is at a given time. An EP might feature an artist following a particular creative impulse, playing with a different sound between albums, or writing a few songs with a common theme. Anyway, I’m looking at two of them today, so let’s dive in.
The players: Veteran pop-punk/pop-rockers Fall Out Boy who are releasing their second set of material this year, and bratty indie darlings Best Coast following up 2012’s The Only Place.
What Brings Them Here Today?
Fall Out Boy are still in the press cycle from Save Rock and Roll, their reunion album put out this April. Despite the title, it’s the least rock and roll (and least good outright) product the band’s ever committed to tape, opting instead for rock meets pop meets soul creations devoid of character. PAX AM Days could be a chance for them to win back some fans.
Likewise, Best Coast could use more good community press after 2012’s The Only Place. That album stripped away the shoegaze fuzz that’s been a trademark of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno’s sound since day 1, and despite the clear, 70’s singer-songwriter polish, is a bit more of a slog to listen to than I remember.
In short, both groups are looking at a redemption round.
Fall Out Boy got in touch with Ryan Adams at Adams’ recording studio PAX AM. Reportedly, the band wanted to get more in touch with their hardcore roots and “play punk rock” after sound more Maroon 5 than blink-182 on Save Rock and Roll. After two days in the studio with Adams, the group had enough material for PAX AM Days.
Fade Away is the inaugural release of Bethany Cosentino’s Jewel City label, and a somewhat corrective action for her band, as well. In an interview with Stereogum, Cosentino said that Fade Away was her and Bruno’s attempt to recreate the sound of Best Coast’s live show, which is basically the halfway point between Crazy For You‘s lo-fi roar and the sleeker The Only Place.
What’s the Sound?
PAX AM Days racks up 8 songs in 13 minutes–do your own math. The EP could be described as guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley revenge (or, less charitably, their last gasp); aggressive drums and spastic 80s hardcore guitar riffs dominate here, not hooks and cheeky lyrics. To the contrary, Pete Wentz’s bass is practically missing, and Stump’s vocals come out in borderline indistinguishable shouts and screams, save closer “Caffeine Cold”, which is the only cut that gets close to traditional FOB. The songs sound like demos of Fall Out Boy demos: start with a count off, bash out riffs for a minute or minute and a half, and throw the switch. Hurley’s the clear victor here, release from the “drum machine” duties of Save RnR, but that aside, PAX AM Days succeeds a little too well at being “tossed off”.
Fade Away, on the other hand, sees Best Coast get ambitious with song lengths: three of its seven songs stretch past the four minute mark (the group’s previous comfort range was two to three minutes). The band cited “Mazzy Star, Patsy Cline, My Bloody Valentine, and Ambien” as influences–in other words, Best Coast with their distortion pedals back. Fade Away has the hallmarks of BC’s sound: the punchy drums, simple but straightforward lyrics around romance and sadness, rudimentary chord progressions, Bruno’s melodic guitar lines, and Cosentino’s 60s girl-group layered vocals. The varying song lengths actually work in the group’s favor–the title track and “Who Have I Become?” are two of the longest cuts, but some of the best (opener “This Lonely Morning” isn’t quite three minutes, but lovely all the same).
But, Does It Work?
Here’s where it gets tricky. I’m no expert in hardcore, but PAX AM Days feels ok-ish and faceless for what it is. There are few distinctions between songs–“Love, Sex, Death” is the single, “Hot to the Touch, Cold on the Inside” is the crowd singalong, “Eternal Summer” is the feedback-heavy one–but no matter how you slice it, none of them are Fall Out Boy. Patrick Stump plays to exactly zero of his strengths, and the band doesn’t fair much better outside the “make a racket” department. Even as a “back to our roots” record, PAD is painfully overcompensating; sure, the band might have listened to hardcore and punk in high school, and Hurley and Trohman played in metal/hardcore groups during FOB’s hiatus, but early Fall Out Boy was doe-eyed pop-punk.
Best Coast pass the first hurdle of sounding like themselves, but that includes some of their past flaws. The band is at their best when the material is propulsive, this is why despite their varying lengths, the first three songs on Fade Away are impressive. As soon as that sense of forward motion disappears, the quality dips (“Fear of My Identity”) and bottoms out (“Baby I’m Crying”). The one time that slow works is on the title track, which has heightened drama and melancholy. But when Fade Away hits, it hits damn well, and even with some duds, BC have added four great new tunes to their cannon.
Should I Listen to Them?
PAX AM Days: Fall Out Boy play pretend as something they never were: 1.5/5.
Fade Away: Best Coast pass their redemption round, but barely: 3/5.