Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bad Liar-Yours Truly EP (2012)

My major problem with emo (using the term in its narrow sense, to refer to a distinct strand of post-punk originally developed in mid-80s Washington, D.C.) has always turned on the matter of authenticity. The genre developed as an earnest reaction to the violent, macho poses of American hardcore, and its best exponents (Embrace, Rites of Spring, One Last Wish) crafted an engaging, if often brutally pretentious, songcraft. While I now cringe at the raw sincerity of Ian MacKaye's singing on the Embrace LP, I still respect his courage in letting it all hang out over music that didn't hide, but exposed, his vulnerability.

Yet emo's been around for going on 25 years, now, and this leads us to the problem of form vs. content. When kids in 2012 make songs that sound a lot like Embrace, or for that matter, Sunny Day Real Estate or Mineral, do they sound sad, heartbroken and emotional because they're genuinely experiencing problems that are expressed via a sound that hinges on loud guitar and dramatic time shifts? Or do they sound like this because they want to sound like the aforementioned bands, which happened to sound sad, heartbroken, and emotional?

Which leads me to San Francisco's Bad Liar. This guy means it, I think. But the songs on this EP are good enough, qua songs, that it doesn't matter if they're as ironic as I Hate Myself supposedly was. That sets the "Yours Truly" EP apart from virtually every emo recording I've ever heard. It's also one of the cleanest recordings I've heard recently, which means Bad Liar isn't hiding incompetence behind a layer of guitar sludge.

I still haven't told you how they sound. Here's a gander: Bad Liar hinges on clear, earnest, hollered singing and a dynamic guitar sound that owes more than a bit to Cave In, Mineral, etc. i don't know if there's a bassist, because the guitar and vocals take up almost every bit of space on the recording, with brisk drumwork filling in the details. "Temescal Morning" breaks up the intensity a bit with gently plucked acoustic guitar and what sounds like a few piano notes. "Youthanized" is one of the best rock tunes I've heard in 2012: it has a nagging harmony (melody? whatever.) or hook that kept me coming back drunk, sober, and all things in between. The bridge is fucking sick; it has a bitterly heartfelt vibe that I last heard in Leatherface. The vocal shifts are perfectly matched with the instrumentation, and it should get these guys attention outside the Bay Area. 

This was a much longer review than usual, but Bad Liar deserves it. They're the only emo band I've heard of late that deserves attention from those us (like myself) who hate most of the No Idea Records discography. Those of you in the Bay: someone set up a show with Bad Liar and Wild Moth on the bill! I dunno what the scene is like up there but I kept hearing shadings of WM in this EP.

Listen to the EP, then buy it, here.

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