twothirtyeight – You Should Be Living

5 out of 5

Label: Tooth & Nail

Produced by: James Wisner

This album is stupidly good.  It shouldn’t be.  With its Tooth & nNil-ness and high-school themed lyrics, it should be an emo tragedy.  The hand drawn cover and weepy album name always elicited a chuckle from haughty, non-weepy me whenever I would refile the CD – refile suggesting people were buying it.  All the more reason for my judgements!  Har de har, peons.  Check out my Fuck album collection.

Some time later, I was shopping at a beloved CD shoppe, Slackers, behind the counter of which often worked people of whom I approved.  A particularly cute edition of these peoples (yes: They had boobs) made a comment that was pretty ambiguous regarding the band, but due to the illogical way my brain is structured, I took it as a sign to check the band out.

And thus another line in my musical history was written, pretty wholely summarized as: I am an idiot.  Did I like Christian music?  Did I like emo?  Nah, chill: twothirtyeight don’t really fall into those camps.

While lead Chris Staples’ lyrics could be read as spiritual, and he has that particular emo flatness to his voice, this is a band with a much deeper skill set and a talented front man who knows how to pen an instantly catchy riff and turn those teenage-tinted lyrics into something open-ended enough to work across the genre/age divide.  But what I think first grabbed me about this disc – and is evident on their early releases, though honed here – is the precision.  The hooks and beats are distilled down to their essence; the music is immediately arresting for that reason.  This doesn’t equate to minimalism – bass, guitar and drums pull their weight and the group ain’t at all against cranking on the distortion or sprinkling some keys/effects o’er the mix – rather it sounds like the group had a keen sense of only the elements needed to wring the most out of any given track.

The crystalline production helps this out, giving space to the thinner guitar and Chris’ vocals so they sound bigger, sharpening the bass and drums to balance that noise.

Even the closer – a dead-ringer for acoustic emo stuff with raspy singing – wins by having a pretty funny chorus: “the bathroom is a creepy place for pictures of your friends.”

Twothirtyeight pull some moves that fall in line with whatever judgments people like me place on them due to their label, and the look of the disc; they barrel waaay past these expectations to deliver one of my favorite pop-edged rock albums; head-bobby enough for a casual listen, but deep enough to suit a dour mood as well.