The inherent nature of a “goal” is to be currently out of reach. Whether far down the road or just fingertips away, goals are the checkpoints we set to help us navigate the uncertainty of life. But the problem, ironically enough, is that uncertainty turns out to be one hell of a goaltender. It’s a relentless opponent that’s not above mind games, and if left unchecked, will tug at the threads of our insecurities until we’re left completely unwoven. Fortunately for So Money, Baby, the Arizona quartet known as Breakup Shoes have provided a bit of sugar for the pill, pairing soda pop sweet, surf-flavored indie rock with a bare-skinned attempt to snip the thread and prevent further undoing.
Mid-album single “Accessory” hits on the central theme surrounding vocalist Nick Zawisa’s core emotional vulnerability — an unrequited love. With a warm, muted bass tone, Derek Lafforthun drives his bandmates through mellow verses in a lackadaisical swagger, crafting a melody of his own before giving way to a subtle, but undeniably strong vocal hook: “I just want to be what you hold close / I just want to be who you love most”. The majority of the lyrical content throughout So Money, Baby is spent this way, deliberating on “what if” scenarios penned by a hopeless romantic. Frankly, there’s not much to be said for it — often left to be desired across the record is a semblance of nuance in exchange for the melodrama. But in the moments where Zawisa opts to deviate from the norm, he briefly lifts the veil to a more compelling premise: the longing to be wanted at all, and the seeping dubiety in meditating on his goals of finding any form of significance in a life outside his own.
This narrative holds a predominance on opener “Idk,” where Zawisa lends consideration to his hypothetical disappearance. “What if I packed up and moved away / Would there be anyone begging me to stay / I don’t know how anyone could love me / When I don’t love myself.” It’s a line that fits eerily well into a bubbly indie-pop rhythm reminiscent of Would It Kill You-era Hellogoodbye, despite being sung with a discernible sorrow before confirming that he’s “trying hard to figure it out”. The goal. Elsewhere, Zawisa quite literally hands us a list of his existential fears on the album’s penultimate track — a blissful, sun-kissed daydream titled “I Am Afraid Of Heights.” Amongst a litany of tracks focusing on what primarily boils down to being stuck in the friend zone, these moments are to be clung to and squeezed for every ounce of their juice.
Where So Money, Baby finds itself passing with exceptional quality, however, is in its instrumentation. Zawisa and fellow guitarist John Macleod make for a dangerous duo, slapback and modulation-drenched guitar tones bouncing off of each other with remarkably symbiotic character. Perhaps the best example of this is found on “Trash,” where the two pluck away to produce a breezy soundscape that would resemble the default music for anyone’s retro-utopian Hawaiian getaway fantasy. Arizona’s own production darling, Bob Hoag (The Format, Courtney Marie Andrews, Dear and the Headlights), is to thank for that. The rarity of a group like Breakup Shoes is that each of its members carries their own distinct sense of melody — it’s a positive in that there’s a hook in some form around every corner, but can be a muddy drawback if not filtered through the proper lens. Thankfully, with a long history of amplifying (heh) the best qualities of any Flying Blanket Studio occupant, Hoag ensures the preservation of the band’s silkiest and most sonically enveloping sounds to date. After all, with a little over four years passed in existence, their signature sound is the definitive aspect in which Breakup Shoes are currently very certain of themselves.
And maybe that contrast is part of what gives this EP the charm to work. While the band sounds more confident than ever, So Money, Baby puts Nick Zawisa on display with his own set of personal uncertainties — uncertain of how his loved ones perceive him, unrequited or otherwise. Uncertain of the impact he’ll leave when he’s gone, or about how he can learn to accept himself for who he is now. But if we’re to take his word, he’s trying hard to figure it out. And while there’s no telling how far off it is, So Money, Baby is a promising attestation that Breakup Shoes are worthy of holding our attention for a time when that goal becomes an accomplishment.