In promoting his new album with Atlanta indie rockers Gold-Bears, frontman Jeremy Underwood released a mix of songs that inspired the album, speaking openly of their influence. “I’m sure I ripped off a chord progression or two,” he wrote, and artists from that mix do indeed hold sway on Dalliance (perhaps most notably The Wedding Present and Superchunk). But another note from Underwood unlocks the secrets of the album far more succinctly: “The past two years have been some of the roughest years of my personal life, and in addition to being sonic influences, these songs were also sonic ameliorations.” No matter how rollicking and upbeat Gold-Bears get on Dalliance, there’s an undercurrent of darkness, one Underwood and company are trying to expel.
Written on the heels of a divorce, it’s hard not to project a lot of the heartbreak and pained frustration onto Underwood’s personal life. Opener “Yeah, Tonight” splits vocal duties between Underwood and Standard Fare vocalist Emma Kupa, as if it’s a turning point in a broken relationship, the two singing at each other. The former sings about how his life has been overtaken by her dreams, the latter how “you make bad decisions to continue your selfish behavior.” Immediately following, the bursting-heart “Chest” recalls the fuzzy pop punk of the Thermals, and only partially because Underwood’s nasally twist sounds remarkably like Hutch Harris here. But after an anthemic burst of xylophone and chorus, closing line “And I will love you like the way you could never love yourself” brings the ache back into focus.
Though it’s another sugary burst, “For You” keeps the vitriol flowing, flinging accusations and wielding the words “truth” and “fate” like a holy dagger. Even ’80s jangler “Hey, Sophie” finds a dark vein, though one far less aggressive. However the relationship may have ended, wherever fault and blame ought to be assessed, the pain is there: “This is life/ I say your name at least a million times/ For better or worse/ This is a lonely way to die.”
In perhaps the ultimate backhanded dis track, “Fathers and Daughters”, Underwood lists the faults of the person he’s addressing, but he makes sure to drop a “but who am I to say” before each. Few artists can make complaining about heartbreak passable subject material, and even fewer come out of that experiment more likable. Despite some too-similar musical passages and a lack of memorable moments in the album’s mid-section, a few gold standard hooks, some heart-pumping pop punk, and clever turns of phrase help Dalliance do just that for Gold-Bears.
Essential Tracks: “Yeah, Tonight”, “Chest”