Last updated on February 14, 2022
I was in high school from 2002-2006, so one could make some educated guesses at what records defined those seminal years for me. (The Postal Service: Check. Transatlanticism: check. Deja Entendu by Brand New: check.) But Deep Elm: Too Young to Die stuck with me even more than those. The anti-suicide effort / sampler combo was my first introduction to the diverse (and often raucous) emo of Deep Elm Records. Those almost-all-now-obscure bands (Settlefish! The White Octave! Pop Unknown!) contributed strongly to altering my life trajectory from “whatever it was before” to “independent music.” I owe a lot to Deep Elm.
The Cast Before the Break showed up on Deep Elm in 2011, just after Independent Clauses switched its focus from punk/emo/hardcore to folk/indie-pop/indie-rock, so I didn’t catch them the first time. But wow, I am here for them the second time. Where We Are Now is a tour de force of post-00s emo; a record that capitalizes on the virtues of an iconic sound without being defined by them.
Led by the near-mythical three-guitar attack that many emo bands aspired to, Where We Are Now filters emo tendencies through a variety of concepts. The raw, pounding fury is there, such as on the Before Braille-esque charge of “Minutemen” and the howling “Seaward.” But beyond that, acoustic bits foreshadow lead singer TJ Foster’s later Deep Elm band Accents (…also “Seaward,” actually!). The 7-minute “Friends of Mine” features a Jimmy Eat World-esque late-song slow section amid a post-rock song structure. The Appleseed Cast would have been happy to write the patterned/mathy riffs and rhythms of “From a Pedestal.”
All of these impulses come together on standout “Slice of Life.” The song starts off as a delicate ballad, then builds from there into an atypical barn-burner by adding layer on top of layer of guitars and bass. Foster’s falsetto rides the waves of sound beautifully, then nails the landing with the evocative repeated phrase “waiting for your light to show.” Right at its peak, it crashes, closing with a beautiful thumb-piano/kalimba outro. It’s everything they wanted to achieve in the record, compressed into 3:55.
While not as triumphant in tone, closer “Hindsight” is a fitting cap on a record that took 10 years to complete. The piece rolls through acoustic-driven sections and pounding rock sections, never letting the listener’s attention drop. Kicked off by a truly rousing shout, the last 1:30 is a masterpiece of emo songwriting, regardless of era. The lyrics are fittingly expansive and pensive: “I thought I knew it all / who really does?” This is the sort of piece that goes beyond the titles and stereotypes of genres to be an outstanding song, regardless of your priors.
Where We Are Now is a big, ambitious, successful record. The quintet’s songwriting is top-notch, the performances are evocative, and the collection works together as a whole excellently. If you’ve ever been a fan of Deep Elm, from Red Animal War to Athletics to Montear, you need to check this record out. It’s a time machine that goes into the past and into the future. Where We Are Now is out on Mint 400 Records, another label close to my (and IC’s) heart.