As a reviewer, I go into every album with the hope of liking it. It’s easy to forget, that behind the paragraphs, there are people. We have thoughts, feelings, and ideas regarding what makes music great, what makes it special. Punk rock can be analyzed both objectively and subjectively—I can break down the lyrics, but I can also talk about how they make me feel. I think the most effective recommendations hang on a merging of the objective and subjective: what are they doing, how does it work, and what does it make me feel?
Nightmarathons from Pittsburgh had me considering a lot of these questions. Missing Parts is their debut album, released by A-F Records—who have, in the last couple years, positioned themselves as one of our most exciting contemporary punk labels. Nightmarathons play the sort of melodic punk that I can’t help but keep returning to, time and time again. Think: The Menzingers, Dead Bars, Elway, Nothington and you’re on the right track. Their band bio throws a curveball into the mix, an angle that seeks to invigorate and intrigue: “Nightmarathons melds varying punk, post punk, and first-wave emo influences to create their own unique take on melodic punk rock music.”
First-wave emo? Like Embrace, Rites of Spring? That sounds awesome. That sounds like a fresh take on punk’s most muscular contemporary genre. But why do my words feel so loaded? Why am I talking about the difficulty of reviewing when I should be talking about Missing Parts greatness? Because objectivity and subjectivity do not always align. For me, this is one of those cases. Nightmarathons have a great logline and Missing Parts is as competent a debut as any—but more often than not, it just doesn’t stick.
Which is why I hate giving star reviews. Who can boil down a work of art to a numeric system? An album can do ten things right and three things wrong, but if the ten good are ten great, the three get lost in the mix and vice versa. No five-star album is perfect and no one-star album is completely imperfect, they’re just different ratios of good and bad, weighted by importance by some schmuck with a keyboard. This is my way of saying that Nightmarathons does most things right, leaving me with the question: is it enough?
Missing Parts is an album of anthems. Across its runtime, there are prime moments for screaming along, jittery moments before choruses where you can fully expect to be swept up by the rhythm of a crowd. This is the sort of punk rock that takes a work week to appreciate. It takes a full week of saying yes, sir and no, sir—until you’re looking at the clock and thinking about the last five minutes of your Friday and watching the minutes drip away so slow and thick they might as well be honey. And then, when you’re released, you go to the show. You hear these downbeat anthems, you dance and sing and drink way too much and you let everything out in a silly, sad bout of catharsis. We laugh at all the modern punk cliches, but it describes Nightmarathons’ melodic punk perfectly. This is music meant as an antidote to whatever ails you. If you look around, you might realize Nightmarathons aren’t alone in this approach.
The songs on Missing Parts, for the first listen, entirely passed me by. I was looking for hooks, looking for something to etch itself into my memory, and I was left with empty hands. But, repetition breeds familiarity and soon, on my fourth or fifth listen, I realized that there was actually some admirable songwriting on Missing Parts. Songs like “Closer,” with its rousing chorus of, “Take a bow, disappear/ turn my back, so insincere!” became an earworm with time. “Cull Your Heart,” with its thick and fuzzy guitar lines makes good on Nightmarathons’ promise of melding first-wave emo with melodic punk. The band becomes more intense and immediate as the album continues with “Honor System.” “Simple,” with its languid pace and earnest delivery shows a diversity of sound that passed me by entirely at first.
Nightmarathons is a lot of things, but to call Missing Parts anything but a grower would be misleading. I ended up liking this album a lot more than I originally thought, but the problems I had with it on the first listen are the same I had on the tenth: a relative lack of boldness. Missing Parts loses itself in a lot of similar sounding songs that take a fair amount of objective observation to decipher from their surroundings. This is not to say they are not good songs, but that they lack immediacy and verve. These songs—or, as we established earlier, anthems—should roll out with a gut punch. They should sound strong and singular, but more often than not, they roll by like a black car on a black night with broken headlights. Missing Parts is a good album full of good songs that take too much objectivity to be great.
And that’s why the ratio is all kinds of fucked up. Nightmarathons don’t do much wrong, but the one thing that doesn’t work for me is like a blanket that muffles the entire album. It’s the emotional hook—that feeling of yeah, I get that—that doesn’t deliver until all other choices have been considered. I’m out here looking for the mirror image—the subjective hook front and center, the thing that pulls you in and makes you comb through the music to support whatever intangible feelings it gives you.
If we’re being fair though, I can’t deny that Nightmarathons did grow on me. In time, I found myself recognizing songs and remembering snippets of lyrics, but ultimately: the subjective recognition only took me so far, and regrettably much too late. Missing Parts is a wildly competent album that will surely have its devout followers, but as with anything—if it doesn’t catch you hard, it might not catch you at all.