Ryan Young writes every song like a suicide note. Each word is weighted with finality, encompassed in an honesty so intense it flatly denies retractability. Consequences be damned, whether it be a tender personal revelation or fiery indictment; when they leave his lips there’s no turning back.
Therein lies the appeal of Off With Their Heads. It’s this devotion to the pure and undistilled that has made them what they are today. On Home, the band’s gut-wrenching aesthetics are still firmly set in place, but this time around it’s more than just a collection of songs. Featuring some of Ryan Young’s best songwriting to date, Off With Their Heads has never been this emotional or cohesive. Home is a masterpiece.
Off With Their Heads is still rooted in punk at its most basic, sounding something like a gravelly and bass-heavy Ramones. It’s that very bass that provides the band with so much of their sonic character, providing a deep but highly audible foundation for Young’s often depressing lyrics. These deep tones are somewhat of a theme, because it bears to mention that Young doesn’t so much sing as bellow, his low and gravelly inflection another distinct characteristic of Off With Their Heads’ sound. This time around though there’s a sense of exploration, both in production and performance. On “Don’t Make Me Go,” easily one of the most memorable and interesting tracks on the entire album, the throaty bellow is traded in for a more natural singing voice, as if Young’s very last measure of distance from his material had been shattered. Interestingly, “Don’t Make Me Go,” which is essentially a ballad, eschews the let’s-get-real acoustic guitar common on these sort of tracks for a strummed bass. While not an obvious choice, hearing it in context reveals it to be the perfect one.
The songs on Home all revolve around a meditation on the album’s title; sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly– offering the listener a connective thread. But it should be noted, the album never feels like it’s tripping into redundancy, each song working excellently on its own, no doubt a tribute to Young’s songwriting prowess. From the moment you hear “Start Walking” barrel out of guitar feedback and into recklessly strummed power chords, memories of overbearing concept albums are pounded to a pulp.
As mentioned, the songs on Home are some of the best Off With Their Heads have ever released. “Shirt” and “Nightlife” both standout in the first half of the album as the type of loud, bitter songs about self-loathing the band is known for. The aforementioned “Don’t Make Me Go” is probably going to attract the most attention for obvious and superficial reasons (but not necessarily bad ones, it is a tremendous song), but it’s the lyrical change of pace “Altar Boy Blues” offered me that stuck out in my mind. Known for their introspective lyrics, it’s kind of interesting to hear Off With Their Heads strike outward rather than inward. Of all the songs on Home, “Altar Boy Blues” is perhaps the most righteously punk in the traditional sense. It’s an incredible track that weaves frustration with the external with a sort of internal reconciliation that’s more complex than it let’s on. “Always Alone” is Off With Their Heads at their most heartbreaking, reading like hot wax dripping onto a letter waiting to be sealed. It’s a personal damning–a half considered truth fully realized, said aloud for the first time. “Always Alone” finds Young lamenting his hatred of others and himself, wondering why he’s so different from those around him, before finally coming to the conclusion that he’ll “always be alone.” What I love most about the song is it’s anti-solipsistic approach to emotional songwriting. To me, one of the largest logical flaws we have as a people is our inability to understand the inherent differences in perspective and feeling we have when compared with each other. Young’s acknowledgment of this serves as an ultimate tragic truth, that for whatever reason, some of us will always be out of step.
Off With Their Heads have long been one of my favorite bands. It’s not uncommon to hear me joyfully singing along to “Fuck This, I’m Out” near the end of my work week (“I’m counting down the days, ‘til I can get the fuck out of this place!”). So, there’s a huge chance I’m biased. But, what can I say? This resonates with me. Home is a perfect album because it transcends into an idea, into a feeling– achieving what every album wishes was so easy, a transubstantiation of music into emotion.