Emo as a genre is coming full circle. Originating in the ‘90s with pioneers like Jawbreaker and Sunnyday Real Estate, it was one of the few offshoots of ‘80s straight-edge hardcore. The vocals were high-pitched, guitars were full of arpeggios— alternating tempos and dynamics— and the overall package was full of angst. The 2000’s saw the genre flourish: Thursday spurred aggression, Jimmy Eat World stayed soft with mainstream appeal. Brand New and Circa Survive have hung somewhere in the middle.
Now, a lot of bands are plunging right back into the soil for the roots. Pianos Become the Teeth, HRVRD, Gates and now Tyto Alba. Remember that name, Tyto Alba, because they have all the classic emo hallmarks— desperate falsettos, arpeggiated guitar lines, jazzy drum fills—all in a dynamic package.
Consisting of former Umbrella Weather and Howl Moonshine Howl members, this Denver foursome is almost entirely the brainchild of singer/songwriter Melanie Steinway. Fellow guitarist Matt Rossi adds the more aggressive and experimental elements juxtaposing Steinway’s arpeggios and high-pitched vocals. Jeremy Van Zandt and his complement Ryan Self anchor down the rhythm section with drums and bass respectively.
On March 8th they unleashed their baby Oh Tame One into the world, a five-song EP that runs the proverbial emo gamut. Capitalizing on guitar interplay, a la HRVRD and Gates, many of the songs shine, shimmer and bounce in the deceptively mellow way that has made the genre so enjoyable. Take the first track for example. “Turn to Stone” kicks off the EP with palmed chords and subtle fingerpicking. The pre-chorus and chorus is the true highlight though. Guitar tapping kicks in with fingerpicking to elevate the song to its peak.
“Divide” might be the best track of the five, with its post-rock inspired intro and ethereal soundscape. It shows the entire group at its most emotional and restrained for the first three-and-a-half minutes, then at their most cathartic as Rossi spins a solo worthy of a Circa Survive B-side. As promising as these moments are, Oh Tame One is not without its blemishes. Steinway’s register rarely changes pitch, and she opts for Oohs instead of words way too often. It’s a trick that is only tolerable in small doses and she uses it for nearly every song.
The instruments, overall, are not nearly as tight or dynamic as they could be, which would seem to show the band’s youth. And though the playing is at least enjoyable, the songwriting lacks direction at times. “Passenger” and “Deer” spin their wheels, never seeming to go anywhere. Circa Survive, Minus the Bear, Thursday and Gates all debuted with releases that offered more promise than substance. If Tyto Alba wants to stick around, they’ll need to blow us away with a full-length.
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