When it comes to building a world, details matter. Whether the world exists in a movie, a book, or even a song. Details are what make us feel the heat of an ember or the exuberance of youth. Even in punk, lyrics are enriched by the tics and specific imagery of a time and place. It gives weight to a slice-of-life, enough so that by the time the last note fades away, we feel like what was just sung to us happened, that it is cemented in reality, as part of our world as it is the world of the song.
LA’s Spanish Love Songs fill their sad sack anthems with the tiniest details, and by the last song, Schmaltz feels as lived-in as an old sneaker, and might just be 2018’s first great album.
As far as punk rock goes, this is the sort that captures me immediately. I pride myself on liking a lot of different punk, the stuff that barks and snarls, sneers or moans. Hardcore, crust, pop punk, a little emo, a little post, but my favorites these days are the result of introspective and eloquent songwriters that can match poetic lyrics to big singalongs. Stuff like the Menzingers, Red City Radio, and now— Spanish Love Songs, a band that’ll likely draw comparisons to the former, but manages in the end to carve out an identity of their own with Schmaltz.
Spanish Love Songs’ music is personal, so personal it hurts. It reminds me of how I felt the first time I heard Against Me! That feeling of did they really just say that? There’s strength in that sort of abandon, and Spanish Love Songs is benching above their weight. Opening song, “Nuevo” is a quiet track driven by piano chords courtesy Meredith Van Woert, rich in top-notch imagery, sung in an affectatious Greg Barnett-esque croon by Dylan Slocum. Slocum sings, “And I can’t help but laugh at these edge kids I used to mosh with at church hardcore shows, getting blasted on Pabst and burning holes into the wall with their Parliaments.” You immediately have a sense of time and place, but in the end, Slocum doesn’t shy away from prying open old wounds, “Well fuck, I’m miserable, which means it’s me that hasn’t changed.” Simple and direct, no bullshit. Schmaltz is filled with these sorts of lines, ones we’ve said to ourselves in our darkest moments, and Spanish Love Songs fits them to a melody and forces us to sing along. It’s the unique sort of confrontation that feeling-forward punk thrives on, recognition and acceptance of us at our worst.
The music itself is great, with memorable and energetic fretwork. “Sequels, Remakes, and Adaptations” begins with a guitar line that explodes out of thin air, while the song also introduces a melody that becomes a motif throughout the album, a smart move that makes a record tangibly cohesive, beyond something more ephemeral like thematics. It also introduces some speed, which is always much appreciated in a subgenre often critiqued for its mid-tempo emotional jams.
“The Boy Considers His Haircut” is my clear favorite from the album, a song that takes minutiae and reveals it to be symptoms of a greater angst. It has great screamlong melodies throughout the song, without ever dipping into a strict verse-chorus structure. The aversion to, but not total rejection of, traditional song structure reveals another parallel between Spanish Love Songs and The Menzingers—the effect is a strong one though, making each song feel natural, like it’s growing off of itself in new and organic directions.
There’s too many great songs on Schmaltz to talk about individually, but the number of highlights could very well be the same as its tracklisting, as each new listen offers something new to appreciate. That’s the depth the songwriting brings to the album; there’s a lot to unpack and Spanish Love Songs craft their music to make sure you want to unpack it, even when it hurts, even when it’s just a mirror to our discontent.