There comes a time in every musician's life when the ebullience of youth can no longer steer the ship on its own. Opinions on philosophy, parenting and politics fill sails that were once inflated with reckless angst aimed at anything and everything, and it can be damn near impossible not to question the importance of what you're doing, no matter how hard you try to keep the volume and tempos turned all the way up.
Aging hits punks harder than most. Even though the self-aware "post-30s punk" schtick of bands like the Menzingers and Beach Slang is as often a sore reminder of what's been lost as it is a comfort for elder scenesters who've outgrown their band tees, the ability to overwhelm insecurity with charm is a powerful asset.
Loaded with buzzy guitars, shout-along choruses and tempos well above the threshold for circle pits, Darkness, Together, the latest from Portland quartet Lee Corey Oswald, is essential listening for anyone who feels trapped in the demographic netherworld that's too old for the Warped Tour and too young for Pickathon. Case in point is "You Want to Be Right or Happy?," a thundering power-pop anthem that picks apart the shallow pursuit of getting fucked up at music festivals and forgetting why you're there in the first place. It's a poignant takedown of the devolution of idle youth culture, but a bittersweet hint of FOMO coats the track as guitarist and singer Lee Ellis rails against a well-intentioned endeavor he knows he's just a tad too old to comfortably enjoy anymore.
"Neighborhood" takes a similar crack at successful peers who built homes while guitarist and vocalist Dan Silver was busy getting stoned. While classic punk acts adopt a nihilistic, sour-grapes approach to the kind of placid adulthood the album is preoccupied with, Ellis and Silver expend great effort sympathizing with friends and family who chose stability over the cheap thrills of being in a band. You'd almost feel sorry for them if the songs weren't so fun. But you can't help but wonder how the members of LCO would even handle being chained to desks while such joyous noise brews in their heads.
Had Darkness, Together been released a decade ago, it would certainly have given LCO a fighting chance to pick up a headlining slot with an East Coast emo heavyweight. It's not an outright emo record, per se—it's easier to liken their affinity for slick guitar solos and compressed top-end to pro-level Weezer cosplay than to the bummed-out jangle that's enveloped every recent college grad with a guitar and a quick commute to Philadelphia. But the countless moments when Silver and Ellis eschew bitter shit-talking for reluctant what-if's are undeniably appealing to those who dearly long for the days when the Brand New and Taking Back Sunday were the still the cream of the crop.
HEAR IT: Darkness, Together is available now through A-F Records and across streaming platforms.