Screamo is music built around the idea cathartic emotional release, and while I’m personally glad to see listeners and musicians overcome its relative inaccessibility, it suffers the same fate as any trendy revival– the more that jump on the bandwagon, the more stale it all becomes.
I walked into Old Gray’s debut full-length An Autobiography with this same sense of cynical apprehension. But instead of getting burned by a band with better taste than talent, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a progressive, interesting take on the genre with a hefty injection of melody. An Autobiography came out of nowhere for me, but it stands as a great album that will sure to please fans of the genre.
Old Gray set themselves apart by placing an emphasis on their indie rock and emo influences. “Wolves,” possibly the best song on the album, opens An Autobiography with softly sung gang vocals. “I’ve been digging a grave with the parts of my brain that still work,” sings the band, luring us in with their lyrical cadence and singable melodies. It’s a beautiful opening, but is pushed to full blown transcendence when the throat shredding screams layer over the more meditative voices, moving the song into a place of beautiful chaos. “Show Me How You Self Destruct” is a change of pace in the form of a spoken word track backed by some string work. My first thought was to disregard it as a flimsy attempt at depth, but it actually is a pretty wonderful piece of music, and a perfect lead in to the intensity of “The Graduate,” a loud and brash song filled with subtle dissonance and manic drum work.
What Old Gray does best with An Autobiography is introduce enough new elements throughout its duration to keep it interesting. “Emily’s First Communion” uses hoarsely shouted melodies to open itself up, but moves forward with harsh screaming. This is a cornerstone of the genre, the juxtaposition of vocals, but by the end of the song Old Gray introduces a new juxtaposition– screamed female vocals. The addition to the palate is welcome and helps turn “Emily’s First Communion” into a highlight.
“I Still Think About Who I Was Last Night” probably should’ve ended the album, because it’s a strong track that manages to tie in much of what makes Old Gray so good. Opening with a meandering but beautiful guitar lead (another solid reminder of Old Gray’s excellent sense of melody), the song grows more intense as the drums focus and gain fervor, culminating in a cathartic display of emotion from every musical element. And after the explosion, they pull it back in with a spoken word continuance of “Show Me How You Self Destruct” accompanied only by the dreamy guitar work that opened the song. The actual final track is an instrumental, which, while competent in its own right, it doesn’t have the emotional resonance of “I Still Think About Who I Was Last Night.”
An Autobiography is a stellar experience that combines beauty and raw emotion effortlessly. This is why punk rock is still important. It’s the small bands doing big things that move us forward and make us remember why being surprised is so great. Musically potent and lyrically touching, Old Gray are a breath of fresh air.