Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
The open secret about emo is that it was already getting old by the time it was getting famous. It’s been about a decade since Sunny Day Real Estate capped the accidental genre’s first big wave with the up-and-down Diary. These days, a loose community of hand-wringing punks has managed to revive the sound largely by saturating the market with cult bands. Like the early-’90s boom, it was unintentional, but it’s worked. Many of the new-generation acts are trying to make the next great Jawbox albumor just move a lot of productbut a few have grander designs. You can now count Seattle’s Pretty Girls Make Graves among the latter: Unlike PGMG’s 2002 debut LP, Good Health, which rollicked as much as it emoted, the quintet’s latest, The New Romance, is essentially a compendium of complicated, dead-serious rock. Lead singer Andrea Zollo handles most of the melodies without male counterpoint, and the disc becomes a one-seat confessional. “Hello, I’m neurotic/Creating problems that don’t exist/Don’t believe me when I say it’s all right,” she coos on “Blue Lights,” one of the many songs on the new album that eventually find a straight-ahead groove after starting with something more abstract. None of it is blindingly originalI keep hearing Gang of Fourbut its earnestness doesn’t sound forced or immature. Built to Spill producer Phil Ek does for Zollo & Co. what he’s done for so many other rising indie acts: give them ample space without forcing them to fill it all up. In that regard, two songs stand out: “The Grandmother Wolf,” which begins with a simple riff and detours all over the art-punk map without losing its forward momentum, and the anthemic “The Teeth Collector,” on which Zollo gives her most dynamic performance, recounting the moment when a poisonous relationship becomes too much to bear. Elsewhere, she moves well beyond her genre’s notorious fixation on personal pain. The Radiohead-esque “Holy Names,” for example, is a sweet paean to nighttime rooftops, and the title track examines a fragile secret romance with confidence and clarity. It all fits the mission that PGMG laid out in “Speakers Push Air,” the leadoff track to Good Health. That song was about how “I heard a record and it opened my eyes/…There was that one definitive moment/When it was something new.” Sure, Pretty Girls Make Graves know how to create some definitive moments of their own. But look closer at that lyric: It’s in past tense. And despite its sonic successesnot to mention the aspirations of its titleThe New Romance follows suit. Joe Warminsky