I’ve gotta be that guy. Of all the musical revivals that I’ve bore witness to, the emo revival is the one I never got quite on board with. I don’t have anything against emo, per se. It’s just an area of punk I’ve only ever had a passing interest in. I like some Rites of Spring, I dig Sunny Day Real Estate; newer bands I like are Dads and Pet Symmetry. Not a huge emo dude.
So, when I decided I wanted to check out At This Age I wasn’t really planning on having to talk about emo at all. In fact, the last time I heard Signals Midwest, I seemed to remember them being a chuggier pop punk band– the sort of midwest punk that owes debts to Dillinger Four and the Lawrence Arms, but just a tad bit more somber. I wasn’t too far off, but if that was my last impression, they’ve certainly grown. Signals Midwest is no longer a garter snake slithering about the middle of America, they are now a big-ass python that has swallowed whole a figurative rat of emo influences. Go figure.
Their sound is typified by gentle arpeggios, prominent basslines, emotive lyricism, and dynamic songwriting. But, they also have well-defined melodies that make even their saddest songs instant brain candy (“Endless west side summer” is the refrain that refuses to leave my head). And they temper it all with more traditional punk influences so that the angst never feels anything less than concrete. So, maybe I’m not a big emo guy. It happens. But as it turns out, I am a Signals Midwest guy.
Title track “At This Age” captures a lot of what I love about the album. It knows when to be ethereal, and it knows when to pump up the volume and trade the arpeggios for fat chords. The lyrics cut deep too. I think just about any lost twenty-something can find resonance in a line like, “Always thought at this age I would be, settling into a major city/ Always thought at this age I would be further than I am now.”
The album itself has the feel of a concept album. It carries with it the depressive weight of being stuck in between changing seasons. I like the way it moves, it meanders without ever feeling slow, and at thirty-minutes long, it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. From album opener “You’re Gonna Be Golden” to the intense and crushing “Song for Ana” it doesn’t ever lose its sense of pace despite being largely mid tempo.
At This Age is the perfect autumnal welcome mat. It’s a checkpoint for Signals Midwest, a rite of passage for them as well as, I imagine, their fans. Some albums do that, you know? For me The Menzingers’ On the Impossible Past will forever be connected to memories of my time in Moscow, ID, riding around in the backseat of friends’ cars. The best music is the kind that becomes a part of you. At This Age is the sort of album that for the right person at the right time imprints itself on a memory.