As the buzz of the last great Warped Tour fades into distant radio static, its impression is still distinct. Like any great megatour experience (nods toward early Lollapalooza), it started as a traveling counterculture smorgasbord and came to be a massive subculture in its own right. Whereas the early years of the tour featured bills brimming with punk rock, post-hardcore, and emo groups, later years showcased an increasingly distinct array of “Warped Tour bands”, whose sounds were a resultant blend of the tour’s annual offerings. While not necessarily being the most popular thing going on in the underground as of late, the music of this ilk still has a dedicated fanbase. Such fans would do themselves a service to take a moment and peep the music of Philadelphia quartet twentythreenineteen, whose debut album XXIIIXIX proves a functional cure for post-Warped Tour cravings.
Formed a little over a year ago in the Rowan University area, the newly-relocated band features Dylan Walker’s lead guitar, Sean McCall’s singing and extended instrumentation, with Wave Deaner and Nick Moretti on drums & bass respectively. Each member’s efforts are rooted in years of experience playing music in New Jersey’s various DIY and bar-band avenues, culminating in twentythreenineteen having a foot in the local basement scene and another in the more professional career band network, though there’s a leaning towards the latter. One listen to their debut says it all: this band isn’t interested in waiting around settling for whatever they can get, aiming instead for polished pop perfection.
From the jump, XXIIIXIX immerses listeners into an experience that feels both foreign and familiar. “Lost” quickly establishes a digestible emo aesthetic, with McCall’s youthful crooning at the forefront of charmingly sullen mid-tempo instrumentation that shifts smoothly from a sweater-weather pop track to a vulnerable yet anthemic breakdown. The pulsating swell leading into “Losing Touch” feels like a savvy production move a la newer Tiger’s Jaw (*ahem* we see your master credit, Will Yip), with the song’s later flirtations with glassy keyboard contrasting the reassuringly warm vocals, evoking imagery of being near a fireplace as snow falls outside. Tracks like “Scripted” bear more explicit nods toward the band’s indie roots, as the twangy riff at the beginning of the song harks back to simpler, dustier subterranean Philly DIY dreams. Meanwhile, “You” shifts interestingly between a pairing of syrupy sweet guitar twiddling with hazy electronic drums and shouting backing vocals over McCall’s pleading “I’m asking why”. I think I enjoyed “I Am” the most, if only because its propulsive kick-off gave me a sudden urge to listen to “Red & Blue Jeans” by The Promise Ring, which is a glowing association for any self-respecting emo-adjacent band to evoke.
The album does tend to verge on the cornier side of genre tropes at times, too. “Tangled” is a chief culprit, starting with a Monsters Inc. soundbyte which nods to the band’s namesake, not unlike Mom Jeans’ infamous “Edward 40hands”. This song features the weakest production of an album which is otherwise very well-engineered, with the guitars and other mid-frequency instruments sounding like they’re coming through a broken school PA. The breakdown at the end of “Drained”, where a melodramatic guitar lick leads into a yelled-till-shrill refrain, felt worthy of a knowing eye-roll due to its aggressive kitschiness. “Convince Me” ends up harping on the “sleepy suburban boys say they’re insane in a way that suggests they might just be going through a pretty-typical-for-20-somethings rough patch” trope, the sort of lyrical expressionism that forces you to remember that people have vastly skewed definitions of what constitutes insanity. “Ascending”, the obligatory acoustic closing track, sounds nearly identical to Never Shout Never, an artist who essentially wrote the playbook on sceney-weenie schmaltz. If there’s one thing this album is brimming with, it’s schmaltz.
It stands to be said that after many runs of this album, my opinion has changed significantly. I would not say I came out a fan per se, but I would venture to say that I have a lot of respect for twentythreenineteen, as what they’re doing, derivative as it may be, they are doing expertly. Aesthetically and tonally a consistent release, XXIIIXIX nonetheless features songs that are distinctly representative of the scene they’re emulating. Furthermore, it is simply more ambitious than most of the bands coming from the immediate area in terms of production value and arrangement, with tracks like “Ascending” featuring affecting string accompaniment and the clean and interesting production on most tracks. The sad-boy-angst vocal delivery or the uninsightful, self-concerned lyricism ultimately turns me off from the project, but these are things I dislike about bands ranging from basement emo outfits on up to The Chainsmokers. The point is, this may not have been made for my enjoyment, but for those of you who miss some schmaltzy boy bands singing softly about being sensitive, this is going to solidly hit all your marks. I still respect how well it does its job, and am hoping perhaps that these lads find an audience who will champion them in these trying post-Warped Tour times.
- Pristine production
- Delightfully distinct songs
- Very appealing material for fans of such an aesthetic
- Uninteresting lyrics
- Annoying background vocals
- Derivative styling; “have I heard this before?”
Listen here! Let us know what you think of their debut in the comments below!