Friday, May 25, 2018

Saved | Now, Now

The emo era of the mid-aughts is well in the rear-view. Connected to the popularity of rock, acoustic pop-rock, and pop punk throughout the last decade, it perhaps officially died when this year’s edition of the annual convention for emos and nostalgic former emos – the Warped Tour – was announced to be the tour’s last cross-country run. (It could also be argued, however, that the Warped Tour jumped the shark a few years ago when Bebe Rexha somehow found herself in its lineup.)

But the bands who thrived in the emo era's heyday – ones like Fall Out Boy, Tegan and Sara, Panic! at the Disco, and Paramore – have managed to survive by aging out of their association with Hot Topic culture alongside their core listeners, who are all solidly out of their angsty formative years and into young adulthood. Paramore have done particularly well as they transition into a pop-oriented rock band, sparing the depressive rock clichés and melodramatic outpouring of overwrought emotion in their newest form.

Now, Now, a low-profile band that began to make waves in the twilight years of the emo era, are no different. Saved, the duo’s first album in six years and third in their decade-long career span, is far separated from their last records, which resided only in the periphery of "emo" but didn’t cower from the acceptance from the community. This record’s guitars and sad-song lyrics, both carryovers from the first generation of the band, are softened by a cradle of synthesizers, pillowy and pastel-toned like a cloud of cotton candy. The result is a more mature, instantly infectious record, with a sound and release date that lodge it in the contenders’ list for the album of the summer.

What better way to concrete a commitment to a pop record than to pen a song dedicated to the King of Pop? Like most of the record, "MJ" is the bouncy antithesis to its own distraught lyrics. Lead vocalist KC Dalager creates a conversation with the late Michael Jackson, lamenting about a crumbling relationship with her oh-so sparkly voice. Across Saved, that voice is glossy and punchy as it navigates melodies and climaxes that are no further in relation than first cousins within her restrictive comfort zone. The songs’ deceptively neon coatings are not uncomfortably similar to one another, but admittedly, they can melt together into one hue without careful attention.

The duo’s melodies are not belters by any means – in fact, Dalager’s vocals are most potent when cut staccato against plush backdrops. She stars opposite of a stuttering guitar line on "Yours," a anthemic track that dives into dusky, synthesized padding at its chorus. And her vocals are chopped to bits on the pulsating "Knowme" and the disjointed title track - the closest the duo jaunts toward dance music, though they're not the best tracks for getting down on the dance floor. Rather, they ensure the record's gaze toward the pure pop giants doesn't go unnoticed.

The tracks most reliant on guitars ("AZ," "SGL," "Set It Free") remind listeners of Now, Now’s initial charm without regression in attitude; guitars are implemented with much sunnier implications on Saved than they were on Threads. When Hayley Williams, a powerful figure who lent her hand to give Now, Now some footing with an opening act slot on a tour, smiled through her pain on After Laughter, it seems everybody else followed along – including Now, Now.  Saved is a distressed record, but it doesn’t show it; the emotional cracks are walled over with warm, synthesized patchwork. And that's certainly far from an unattractive look.

Saved is available now under Trans-Records.

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