A great new addition to the already wonderful set of recent albums looking back on emo music and 1990s sparseness and loneliness.
Little Big League – Tropical Jinx
Eternally suffering the brunt of the music industry’s pitfalls, the DIY scene still manages to release incredible music in spite of all the obstacles facing it. In particular, New England and the Tri-State Area are putting out some incredible sounds, and many of the most notable acts from these scenes quickly get signed to rising, wholly independent record labels. Specifically, Run for Cover Records, Exploding in Sound Records, and Double Double Whammy, all labels so small that they still have Bandcamp pages, are responsible for providing listeners the recent best of what lies at the fringes of the industry. Based in Boston, Brooklyn, and Ridgewood, NJ respectively (well, EiS also has space in Boston), these labels have given excellent acts like Radiator Hospital, Krill, Two Inch Astronaut, Ovlov, Crying, Pity Sex, Makthaverskan, Mitski, and LVL UP an outlet to captivate bigger audiences. In fact, Speedy Ortiz, now universally revered in indie circles, got their start on EiS before jumping to the somewhat bigger indie label Carpark Records.
It’s worth exploring these labels in depth, but for now, this very superficial overview makes a nice backdrop against which Little Big League’s sophomore effort, Tropical Jinx, can be viewed. This Philadelphia-based four-piece, now signed to Run for Cover after releasing their debut on Tiny Engines, write somewhat lo-fi, faintly dissonant, anxiously glum tunes in line with a lot of the music these labels put out. Their nervously dismal style is grounded by the respectably flexible musicianship of vocalist/guitarist Michelle Zauner, and her words and vocals guide Tropical Jinx across ten antsy, impactful tracks in only thirty-four minutes. The album is merely the latest example of a long lineage of DIY music that manages to be tense and emotive without sounding whiny and irrational, a great new addition to the already wonderful set of recent albums looking back on emo music and 1990s sparseness and loneliness.
Within the album’s opening moments, Tropical Jinx declares its debt to the twinkle of emo and the solitude its lyrics explore. The rough but restrained distortion on the opening notes of the first song (appropriately, the title track) segues into an array of deeply hurt, staring-at-the-ground rock instrumentation. Words arrive soon thereafter, and Zauner’s chilling confession of “I used to have it memorized — the sound of you entering a room” indicates the abandoned direction this album’s lyrics will take. Later tracks such as the woozy, hushed “Take It To a Weird Sad Place” and the roaring, monstrous “Sucker” expand on these themes; in particular, the latter track is one of Jinx‘s best, and it’s exemplary of many of the album’s strengths. Even through the song’s cutting post-hardcore guitar work and fuzzy sonic barriers, Zauner’s lyrics stab like the sharpest of incisors; “Always tend to thrive alone” in the first verse is bested by the chorus’ “I don’t want to leave the house/I’m a sucker/worship the hand over my mouth.” This last line is modified to “worship the hand inside my mouth” for the second chorus, the effect of which is exactly as disquieting as Little Big League planned it to be.
Another strength that “Sucker” displays helps point to an area in which Little Big League could stand to improve. After the last chorus, a chant of “This calls for some drugs” is followed by a brief but intense moment in which Zauner ends the previously stated motif of “I don’t want to leave the house” by gutturally screaming “The house!” The extra force stored in these two words is only repeated on Tropical Jinx during the album’s best song, “Dixie Gun.” Probably the best song about catcalling since Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami” blew up earlier this year, its second chorus, like that of “Sucker”, leads to a breakdown followed by a rushing, acutely gratifying sing-turned-shout of “On every fucking street in town/you’ll be the one/they’ll say/’WELL HE WAS ASKING FOR IT!'” It would be great to see Little Big League include more screaming in future releases; of course, Zauner’s low-key, bleeding-heart singing sounds great, but her robust shouting is like an adrenaline shot directly to the heart.
Nevertheless, the seclusion and stress of Tropical Jinx prove to be quite worthwhile throughout. The hazy but scorching instrumentation further adds to this fulfilling setup; lyrics such as “I can’t get you off my mind/I can’t get you off in general” from the don’t-leave-me tale “Boyish” ensure that these oft-explored feelings don’t go stale, and the discomfiting imagery of the slacker-esque “Property Line” achieves the same effect. It’s all very impressive work, one that merits the question, why don’t bands like this have a bigger audience yet? The answer might be that, with releases this good, the DIY scene may soon find itself exposed to more ears than ever before. And if that doesn’t happen, then at the very least, the artists and labels who work tirelessly from the bottom of their hearts to do what they love have every right to be deeply proud of what they’ve created.