Being a relatively inaccessible genre, emo never got big. Sure, we had that wave when every pop punk band on the radio referred to themselves as such, but the actual sound never moved far beyond the underground. And yet, it continues to prove its worth, inspiring new bands to this day. Obviously, the introspective side of hardcore still has some staying power. The Marine Electric is a band made up of guys who love Small Brown Bike and Hot Water Music and accordingly their music is of a similar style.
Distorted chords hang in mid air as Restrained Joy begins. “Change Your Mind” opens the listener to the sound catalog of The Marine Electric– gravelly vocals, tempo shifts, and dynamic guitar work. Admittedly, these aren’t dissimilar to other bands in their genre and there is definitely a feeling at times that what you’re hearing isn’t any different than what you’ve heard before. But, at the end of the day, honesty and realness define punk rock’s appeal, and I doubt any listeners would find The Marine Electric lacking in either. The biggest distinguishing trait between The Marine Electric and their brethren is the short length of their songs. The longest track on Restrained Joy lasts a solid three minutes and fifty-nine seconds, but the shortest is little more than half a minute. This isn’t to say any of the songs are breakneck, for the most part the album is set firmly in the mid-tempo, but it’s also not to say they feel incomplete. These are brief, often times exciting compositions that remind me of the brevity present in the work of Joyce Manor.
“Live Oak” is perhaps the most impressive track on Restrained Joy, deftly using the genre’s musical language to invoke the holy mixture of emotion and aggression that makes music worth a damn. The song hints at a sense of mutual longing, but it drapes it in cryptic phrasing that only hints at meaning (“reading my mind in your sleep, you said “write a song for me”).
As much as I enjoyed The Marine Electric’s Restrained Joy, I can’t help but feel it was written for too specific of an audience. And that’s fine– no artist should ever give into pressure to make their music more accessible, or reach a wider audience. If The Marine Electric want to sound like an emo-meets-post band, they should. But they shouldn’t sound like all of them. The gravelcore wave is here, and it’s already facing the same hardships as any other newly minted sub genre: boundaries. What are the parameters to this new sound? How does one add ideas to the musical language without straying from what it represents? It’s no easy task, and it’s one I’m sure a lot of bands haven’t considered (perhaps wisely, as I could see the question breeding synthetic sounding, sanitized bands with an eye towards progression without passion). But while I believe all that, and do wish Restrained Joy found some moments to truly transcend, the album as a whole is an enjoyable listen with some excellent songwriting and subtle lyricism. To my ears it sounds like The Marine Electric are comfortable where they are, and they’re not anywhere to be ashamed of.