I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
You know in horror movies, let’s say the zombie genre in particular, when a victim finds him- or herself in a situation where they’re beginning to be surrounded and they start to realize it, and the jump cuts move quicker and quicker from menace to prey until in the end the camera pans back from an overhead position and all you see is a horde of the undead swarming? That’s kind of how I feel about Epitaph Records. I mean, they have some decent artists now – and Settle is a case in point – but back in my high school days, they were a breeding ground for Warped Tour punk bands, the soulless, lifeless, lurching monsters that suburban mall-crawling teens leeched to after being infected with their catchy, yet ultimately empty processed hooks. A glance here and there’s Pennywise; a glance there and there’s Thursday. Here NOFX, there New Found Glory, here Millencolin, there Alkaline Trio, and – oh my God! – it’s The Offspring to finish us off! Quick, flash our copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – is it enough of a talisman to ward off this evil? …I think not.
Apparently I still have Halloween on the brain (and a little twinge of annoyance against Epitaph’s flagship bands), so apologies for this rant to Settle, who, while tapping into the primal energy underlying the punk aesthetic – and actually existing quite nicely as a descendent on the outskirts of the punk rock family tree – owe more to late-1990s midwest emo than LA or NYC punk. Tracing that bloodline from Settle back to Epitaph detours you through record labels such as Jade Tree, Flameshovel, Polyvinyl, and Southern – emo waystations responsible for some of the best in the genre. But though Settle has obviously internalized this scene – and “emo,” as a genre that oversaturated the market in its heyday, is such a bad word nowadays – they shoot off in exciting directions the downward-gazing poet mopes wouldn’t have had the drive to pull off, let alone the rhythmic chops.
I know, I’m coming off like an apologist here, but even so I warn against expecting something groundbreaking – what we have here is a highly enjoyable album existing within pre-determined boundaries. There’s nothing earth-shattering or revelatory. And that’s OK – I dare you to dismiss the record-opening guitar hook from “Grand Marshal’s Mooncloth Robes” without tapping your toes with extreme purpose. The song culminates in a fist-to-the-sky, stadium-shaking chorus that gets your blood pumping at breakneck speeds. It’s an appropriate first track, as it sets the stage for the high-energy rawk throughout. It also introduces the philosphical center of the record: the dissatisfaction of the American suburban twentysomething. Its first line, “We started asking questions,” culminates later in the song with, “Still we have no answers, we just do what we’re told,” and we’re off on familiar paths of “modern suburban ennui” – if history is any indicator, it’s my go-to psychological condition. (It’s probably the French pronunciation. ON-WEEEE….)
But I think highlight “Naked at a Family Function” really reinforces this conceit, and its suggestion that family history is a prime motivator to remain inert plays directly into Americans’ cultural identity problem. As in, our world is completely different from the one our parents’ grew up in, and their parents, etc., so we shouldn’t stifle our creative urges or passionate pursuits just because we’re worried whether or not we’ll get the requisite approval. I agree – don’t let fear run your life, and listen to the chorus: “It’s not enough to say that you will / It’s not enough to wait for tomorrow.” Get out of the rut, now, while you can, while you have the drive. Don’t let complacency hold you back. Settle doesn’t place the blame fully on your parents either – your friends, and by proxy their parents, are just as culpable: “Your friends like to pretend that their happiness will never end / just like your parents who, learned from their parents who, learned from their parents too.” The status quo is symptomatic as it infects each successive generation. (I say all these things with a great love and respect for my own parents.)
The rest of the songs on At Home We Are Tourists are variations on that theme, with sonic tweaks here and there, incorporating the lyrical signifiers of their genre forebears and wringing killer hooks and breaks from their instruments that recall the band’s influences to great effect. (And boy, is this record recorded and mixed well.) (The unfortunately named) “ISO: 40yr M W/Kids Seeks 26yr F W/O Kids” ends on a decidedly Wolf Parade-like note, the Krugian keyboards and Boeckneresque guitar interplay a highlight. Lyrically the danceclub emptiness of alcoholic socializing and meaningless sex is a study in Indie Rock Songwriting 101. “I Saw an Inferno Once” and “Murder” see the band stretching its sound into dancepunk territory, fondly emulating Franz Ferdinand; this is funny as “Dance Rock Is the New Pasture,” which gamely pokes fun at Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, assures us that “rock n roll is a motherfucking fashion show.” I guess if you play the game as well as Settle, you can call out whoever you want. “Sunday, Morning After” is a country/folk ballad (the only one of its kind on the album) highlighting the disposability of relationships: “I used to think I had to stay awhile, but I don’t think you know who I am.” “On the Prowl” is a nice homage to “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The awesome “Kick. Win!” proves there’s a copy of Icky Mettle in one of the band member’s collections. And emo-punk a lá Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids filters into tracks like “Affinity for My Hometown” – although I disagree about the fond nostalgia for “the 610,” the eastern Pennsylvania area code for which the band pines. (I grew up about 10 miles from Easton, PA, where Settle’s from.)
For the young, jaded, inward-looking, white, male punk rocker, Settle’s got you covered. And there’s a wider audience out there as well, as the band has hooks and chops for miles, a huge sound, and great talent. There are a couple Weezer-isms that pop up here and there that I’d tone down (most notably on the closing track), but that’s me, and that’s minor. (Oh, ack! Weezer’s on Epitaph now too – dammit!) This album’s really good, and if you’re a fan of anyone I’ve name-checked throughout this column, or of the bands in the RIYL below, you do yourself a disservice by ignoring At Home We Are Tourists. It’s worth it.
RIYL: Poster Children, Wolf Parade, Jimmy Eat World