GROWING UP The biting nostalgia of Worried Well.
The way Worried Well's Daniel James does emo will remind you of Death Cab and plenty of other genre stalwarts, but he likes it tarnished, fingerprints on the lenses of the binoculars he uses to view the world. Rather than making him tentative, though, this muddying of the waters gives him fuel to go bigger, creating a vibrant and-too bright world.
There's something baroque, something emotional and primal, vivid and stark about Luck, the band's first proper full-length release. Subtlety was not a baroque touchstone value, by any means. They liked things big and loud and raucous back then — but all in exaltation of their devotion to their newly entrenched Christian god.
Well, James is of the mind that you "Find Your Own God," as he outlines in a song that opens like an old soul track full of organ, but then goes sideways. Were the Isley Brothers emo before it was a thing? I'm sure they would have approved of putting a gal on a pedestal, as James does: "I suppose then that I believe in your kindness, in your beauty/If I were made to choose for myself, a deity/Then I'd pray to the face that I dream of every day, anyway."
There's an interlude presented by guest vocalist Amanda Gervasi, buffeted by torrents of James. If you're into dense and plentiful lyrics, this is your band. James turns smart phrases and is thought-provoking. His "Paul's Time with Wm. James" is a hyper-personal affair, a narrative about his father. James seems like he can finally put himself in the elder's shoes: "Growing old is aching all the time," he sings among elements repeating in unpredictable counts and interesting rhythms.
Drummer Cam Jones helps with that. A songwriter in his own right, Jones seems to enjoy supporting James and keeping things orderly. The way he gets out of the chorus back into the spare verse on the opening "She's Got Something to Say" is especially crisp, with the tambourine disappearing for a bit before the full kit enters for the full-band finish that takes long enough to develop that you forget it's a possibility. It's a graduated climb that manages to have big dynamics.
"Give 'Em Hell Kid" does something similar, with an opening featuring a descending guitar line and super-close vocals, distorted like James is on the phone (i.e., right in your ear). And, then, kapow: "So now they say you're depressed/But I'm pretty sure they lied." Eventually they find a middle ground and then modulate up for a bridge that gives way to a continuing call and response, except the call is mixed to the back.
Most everything here fits a verse-chorus-bridge archetype, and the choruses generally deliver the goods. The best punch comes in "I Couldn't Make Stairs," which opens as a lament for "my very own patch of dirt" (reminiscent of the Mallett Brothers' new record, reviewed here last week), but turns into an act of defiance: "When they bribed me I respectfully declined." The finish even features a touch of screamo contrasted with some delicate piano before James closes with the stark realization that "I smiled when I should have shown no teeth."