As they grow to be a staple haunt of Center-City and South Philly’s myriad tent-based block parties, local alt-rockers Perpetuals have seen some impressive momentum after the January 18th release of EP Athena, even nabbing a spot at Hard Rock Café later this month (apparently alongside a band who just goes by “Yeet”). Perpetuals seem drawn to mass-appeal spaces, and this is for good reason. Athena stands as one of the more reductionist alt-rock (whatever that means anymore) records in recent memory. It is both devilishly marketable and remarkably undercooked for one primary reason: what this record really serves as is an “It’s a Small World” ride through the rock tropes of the 2000s, complete with heavily affected, bastard-of-Albini drums, the resplendent hiss of “hi-fi” digital reverb, swung non-sequitur refrains paired with tasteful Toto-esque guitar effects (none of this heavy-handed Mac Demarco SIN), and many others. This is not to say this record sucks or is kitschy or I didn’t like it – it is CERTAINLY kitschy, but in this peculiar, sorta post-Flynt-ian sense. It feels like a gathering of old friends after years of separation, where you’ve seen the ways you’ve grown different and apart but can still appreciate the time you shared together. It is an anthology of the guilty pleasures that makes 2000s rock feel so sweaty to reminisce about. It is the folk music of postmodern white suburbia.
The first thing to note about my experience with opening track “Falling Fading” is that it bears striking resemblance to Kari Jobe’s rendition of the popular evangelical worship tune “Revelation Song.” This fact is totally irrelevant to anyone but those who have had this song ice-picked into their brain stem (sad times, man) but is paramount to understanding my proclivities against this track—and it is assuredly the EP’s weakest. It is, from top to bottom, arranged and mixed in the near exact formula of contemporary Christian rock. Every single voice in this track is saturated with brittle reverb, leaving my ears legitimately fatigued after one listen. The lyrics manifested as ‘universally’ approachable platitudes (“gotta button myself up.., gotta dig in deep), only further emphasizes the “LCD marketability” of this as a leading track. The composition is very safe, taking very few chances on harmonic convolution or evolution. For my money, this is not the opener I’d choose for Athena. It’s too tired, too general, watery. My only hope for this track is that it was meant to represent the feverish nightmare you have sometimes before waking up to an ordinary day, because Athena is a concept EP and perhaps I’m just too fucking dense to understand.
“Why Fight Love” is a marked improvement in nearly every sense from its antecedent. The guitars sound full, splashy, and colorful as a summer’s eve. All voices sit well with each other, and a generally potable sonic balance is persevering—the foundation is finally laid. Of all on this EP, I see this song grabbing a room’s attention much quicker than any other. The outro has a successful lift to it, the immersion into the world of the track is never broken. That world, however, strikes so very generally; It casts its net so very wide. Much like previously reviewed pals Z by Z, the unique element of this song rests in Perpetuals unapologetic adoption of aesthetics and composition tropes that have gone stale, and have been known to be stale. Again, this is not an inherently bad thing. I used to eat stale bread all the time as a child when my grandmother would take me to feed the ducks (I was a selfish little bastard), but it does alienate quite a few “too cool for school” types in the scenes Perpetuals are looking to crack into. As a listener, I’m still indifferent to this track while recognizing its improvements. It’s fine.
“Jewels” presents the imperative “It’s time to change this bed you made.” As this relates to this track’s standing amongst the rest of the EP, we can safely say Perpetuals have fluffed the pillows at the very least. It seems to command the subject to eschew external opinions when faced with ambiguity, favoring one’s true self instead. It’s a “follow your heart” narrative part and parcel to the Hallmark card attitude this EP displays. It’s the most straight ahead of rock tunes, entering a realm of resemblance with the theme of beloved Nickelodeon soap opera “Drake and Josh.” Nonetheless, everything presented in this track works pretty well within its own context. It is also undoubtedly the best mix of the EP, credit to the simplicity of the arrangement and time-tested composition formulas.
The EP closes with “Gain,” a song that truly haunts me. It is the strangest mishmash of boom-clap Budweiser rock and A Perfect Circle pastiche, the former in reference to the almost condescending banality of the lyrics, the latter in reference to its fish-out-of-water bridge. “Learn from your failures and gain, and gain” says the Soulcycle instructor or whomever else is selling a tarot deck of useless platitudes packaged as original self-help IP. It feels like the only purpose of this track is to improve the synch license potential of this EP, with the bridge serving only to pump the slightest degree of intrigue into the composition. An attempt at anthemic this was, but a success it was not.
I don’t think this is a bad record, but I do think it sits far too middle-of-the-road for me to say anything about its aesthetic choices and tropes that haven’t already been assessed in the reviewing the source material. I do believe Perpetuals are a band of talented players with the capability to create exciting “lift” moments. Perhaps I am just too jaded to embrace something that’s trying to sell to “everybody.” However, it is safe to say that there is room for improvement here. Perpetuals need to create space for themselves to take some risks because, while my younger self did enjoy stale bread, moldy bread is for nobody.
- Tight Performances
- Generally good mixing
- Arrangements are overly “safe”
- Corny lyricism
- Stagnant song structure