No, at CPRW Towers we haven’t lost our minds and this isn’t a review of a compilation of the finest works by Ricky Martin, Shakira or whichever of the Iglesias fellas the kids are digging these days. Instead it’s the second album by the Californian punk rock miserablists; and it’s a belter!
Bridging the gap nicely between the Menzingers gruff melodic punk and the Wonder Years pop heavy emo, Spanish Love Songs have enough to win over a casual listener of either band with their accessible melodies, relatable lyrics and sing-a-long anthems. In fact A-F records have somewhat of a coup on their hands with a record that could quite easily make many a punks end of year lists and marks a stellar step-up on 2016’s brilliant but somewhat flawed at times “Giant Sings the Blues”. In all honesty despite the obvious comparisons to the Menzingers and Wonder Years I’d argue that there are more similarities with fellow AF Records alumni “Worship This!” for the musicality and rawness (think the perfect combination of their debut album “Tomorrow, I’ll Miss You” with its more mellow approach and the more breakneck sophomore album “Mint”); coupled with Signals Midwest through the sombre lyrical storytelling and ability to reuse past lyrics to create nods and parallels between songs. What I’m trying to say is if you have any sort of interest in modern gruff punk or Midwestern emo you should find yourself at right at home.
The album opens with the organ heavy, vocal storytelling of “Nuevo” with a whimsical Dylan Slocum reminiscing about happier times concluding with the recognition that we are in charge of our own destinies with the passionate closing lines of “Well fuck I’m miserable, which means it’s me that hasn’t changed or moved an inch out of this place that doesn’t mean I want to end up this way”. It’s a song that really sets the album up acting more as an introduction (think An Introduction to the album by the Hotelier, in how it provides the context and environment that the album lives and breathes in).
If the core of the song wasn’t spectacular enough, the way the tempo and melody kick in as a bridge into the second song “Sequels, Remakes and Adaptations” will instantly win you over on the first listen – with a fast, breakneck pace, great chorus and excellent vocal delivery that grabs you by the throat. Using the opening of the album in this way isn’t anything new but the song writing and emotion contained within the angsty lyrics really sets this apart.
The miserableness doesn’t end there either. Both “Bellyache” and “Buffalo, Buffalo”. The former a proper Midwestern style emo tune that evokes the most recent Menzingers releases at their story-telling best. Its lyrics show a guilt and remorse that won’t go away; it’s the kind of relatable song that has an ability to emotionally connect. The final third explodes from a quiet refrain into a throaty sing-a-long that reminds me of Elway at their finest. The second of this duo is a more chugging typical melodic punk rock song, its chorus destined to fill many a basement and club with many voices joining in in unison. Again it’s a hauntingly emotional song but brings some degree of positivity about escaping with loved ones and cutting yourselves off. Both are excellent high points on the album but as a combo work perfectly together.
Despite the obvious miserable content, the music itself is very upbeat. This juxtaposition works best on songs such as “The Boy Considers his Haircut” or “Joanna on Five Acts”. Both having their epic sing-a-long moments, or using the quieter moments to build the tension and angst, culminating in an angry and passionate Dylan Slocum straining to get every ounce of emotion out of the songs; in particular on “Joanna” where he cries “Why d’you leave without me” over and over.
The final three songs are equally as epic and the quality doesn’t let up in the closing quarter of the album. “Beer and NyQuil” is the perfect distillation of their Menzingers-meets-Wonder Years sound, whilst closing song “Aloha to No One” rounds the album off in a contemplative and reflective state, with its simple acoustic refrain slowing the tempo down but not the angst or passion which still burns throughout the song through Dylan’s vocal delivery.
Schmaltz is a triumph of an album. It’s taken an eternity to write this review for a couple of reasons (much to Colin’s ongoing amusement and no doubt frustration)! First of all I come back to the parallel to the Hoteliers “Home Like No Place Is There” as it’s an album that has so many layers and textures, hidden depths and stunning highs; it’s a living and breathing album full of life and introspection, self-awareness and determination, but also of isolation, loneliness and longing. It’s helped by the fact that it’s a proper grower of an album too. On first listen I knew it was good but the ability of the songs to get stuck in your head, to feel Dylan’s anguish and emotion make it a true stand out that only grows through further listens. Their debut album was good but this has the potential to be truly career defining!
Stream and download Schmaltz here: https://spanishlovesongs.bandcamp.com/album/schmaltz
Like Spanish Love Songs here: https://www.facebook.com/SpanishLoveSongs/
This review was written by Richard Mair.