June 16, 2013

Album Review: Lemuria's The Distance Is So Big

Lemuria has never seemed like the type of band who has ever wanted to become a “big”-sounding one. Since their humble beginnings playing around the northeast coast's DIY spaces, the trio’s first two full-lengths in 2008’s Get Better and 2011’s Pebble settled them into a cozy corner of the small club circuit where reformed hardcore kids, indie rock elitists and young punks tend to collect and connect with the words whoever on stage is writing for the soundtrack of their lives. In the years since Pebble’s release, however, the sounds rising from the basements which often teeter a consensus of these three genre persuasions has become a major talking point among tastemakers, putting a band like Lemuria in a prime position to make a big dent in the music scene if they wanted to. Their latest effort, The Distance Is So Big, stretches the band's comfort with melodic hardcore and food-for-thought lyricism onto a larger canvas in what’s truly a leap in the right direction for a few smart, young punks on the verge of adulthood and their engaged listeners.

Pop-punk-with-bite as educated by Superchunk will always make up the songs that stick out in listeners' minds as Lemuria's most immediately accessible material, but as hinted on Pebble, knotty tempos and cantankerous guitar splits testing these notions with patiently unwinding songs (eventually appreciated as "growers") are where the upstate New Yorkers flourish today. After the short puddling interlude "Michael and Stephen Moon," lead single "Brilliant Dancer" strolls The Distance Is So Big onto an open range of emo-country twang where Sheena Ozzella's sugary charm playfully trades off Alex Kerns' shouty pounce from behind the kit before the founding duo collects in the middle to bring the song out on a climb of swooning harmonizing. Later on "Oahu, Hawaii," Kerns' awkwardly crackling self-conversations escape the ground where Ozzella's pop coos hold his hand, getting courageously uncomfortable without their three-piece tool set and instead, opting for a string section flotational device made quietly loud by post-hardcore auteur J. Robbins on production. Robbins' fine-tuned ear for tremolo of the melodic hardcore kind is safely at its best when Lemuria channels their DIY scene roots (the folky-punk standouts "Clay Baby" and "Chihuly," the New Jersey scene-inspired bashers "Public Opinion Bath" and "Ruby,") but in a fascinating revelation throughout the LP's slow spinners, the D.C. luminary's knack for making softer corners sound devastatingly big rears its head in the moments Lemuria experiment with keys ("Scienceless") or straight-forward melancholy declines ("Paint the Youth," "Congratulations Sex," "Survivor's Guilt.")

The Distance Is So Big is a success at bursting its way through tiny room walls with new branches and roots growing from the trio's extremities, but admittedly, there's also a challenging wealth of shifty arrangements and atypical instruments thrown into Lemuria's indie-punk mix that make it neither casually consumable nor an impossible fete for fulfillment after several listens. As the unrivaled pop darlings of Bridge Nine's hardcore roster grow into their own, their music kindly requests you revisit each song to notice a faintly underlying harmony, fragmented guitar riff or a tricked out bassline by way of Max Gregor that only a careful listener will discover and appreciate. Add to that, Ozzella and Kerns' brainy and sometimes vague lyrical musings beg you to translate a personal connection with each track while providing you your new favorite live sing-a-long. What you take away from the The Distance Is So Big is really what you put into it, and for Lemuria's part, their version of a scene-stealing bang keeps their small-space hearts beating loudly in earnest.

Lemuria's The Distance Is So Big will be released June 18, 2013 on Bridge Nine Records.

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