Five bands of the self-mockingly named The Wave scene of the American Northeast are at a fascinating moment in their career. La Dispute, Touché Amoré, Make Do And Mend, Defeater and Pianos Become The Teeth made hardcore punk with their own individual twists for the better part of a decade, and it appears they’ve come to realise the formula is played out.
It’s a shaky point for the group of friends, but thus far they’ve taken their individual bands’ existential crisis quite well. Touché Amoré incorporated Modern Life Is War influences into their minute-long scream sound on 2013’s Is Survived By, and La Dispute made the honest-to-god exploration of how memories define one’s possessions on this year’s Rooms Of The House. Pianos Become The Teeth took a sharper left turn and completely removed screaming and melodic hardcore riffing from their third overall full-length Keep You.
The Explosions In The Sky post-rock influences that were there on Old Pride and The Lack Long After are still around, but don’t worry, Pianos didn’t become another masturbatory cinema rock band. Instead, they’ve merged the post-rock genre’s echoing guitars and deeply introspective compositions with the directness of punk, and it’s a remarkable synthesis. Focus track Repine is five minutes of guitars played at a much slower tempo that Pianos have in the past, and with the chorus “Your wick won’t burn away” ringing hard from the lungs of Kyle Durfey.
It’s this emotional sincerity that makes Keep You so intense. Catharses don’t necessitate screaming, as La Dispute learned through recording the spoken word tracks on Rooms Of The House. Repine and Late Lives have string backgrounds that never fully appear out of the studio, a welcome studio trick by producer Will Yip. The latter track features some strong tremolo picking that’s works impressively well against devastatingly sad lyrics detailing loss.
One line stands out on end-album highlight Traces: “When you know / You know.” Apply it to heartbreak, to death, or to rejection. The worst part isn’t the end, it’s the unbearable tension from waiting. And once it’s said, it’s over. There’s no going back. Conversely, when what should be said is not said, there’s no way to go back to that moment.
That’s the core premise of Keep You: Pianos Become The Teeth are saying all they wish they could to the people who, for one reason or another, are no longer in their lives. It’s poignant and relatable: just listen to Durfey sigh “mind you / I can hold my breath forever / for as long as I can.” It’s heartbreaking, a concise description of that glimmer of hope held in vain to see or to speak again to one lost. And what about the simplicity of “it was fun / now it’s not fun” on Ripple Water Shine? Or the musing on emotional smallness “I’ve never had / that older side” on Old Jaw, where Durfey shows how it getting older doesn’t mean you automatically figure out how to say what you mean?
Keep You may end on a melancholy note with Say Nothing, which is the closest this album comes to screaming and playing guitar solos. Those two tracks, in addition to Repine and Late Lives, have the best guitar work on Keep You. Old Jaw has a couple ragged riffs near the bridge, but the focus on louder intensities may slightly obfuscate what cool musical ideas are playing. Keep You certainly succeeds in lyrical and atmospheric effect; there are just a couple compositional pitfalls that will likely work themselves out at live shows.
Keep You is a spectacular evolution, and shows this scene still has a few tricks left to pull. Fans of Pianos Become The Teeth’s previous and much more screaming-intensive work will find it a harder pill to swallow, but the same emotional intensity that showed in their past two full-lengths never went anywhere. Yeah, it’s emotional guitar work, but it’s not pedantic or self-absorbed “ugh my life is so hard”. Pianos wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they don’t care if you’re listening; they’re just glad to get it out there for themselves.