To say that Take This To Heart Records has been on a bit of a hot streak during the last calendar year may be selling it short. It’s even more embarrassing to admit that I didn’t know of any of the bands on this roster even as short of a time as eight months ago. When you step back and look at the roster of releases the label has put out in the last calendar year, it starts to have that special feeling that the mid-00s Drive-Thru or Tooth & Nail hot streaks had when we lived through, and grew up on, them. And in many ways, this current hot streak exists as a modern equivalent of what it was like to grow up on that music, but with a far more mature lyrical bent.
City Mouth’s Coping Machine slots in somewhere between Motion City Soundtrack, hellogoodbye, and Andrew McMahon-esque lyrics while The Sonder Bombs’ Clothbound erupts through pop-rock anthems reminiscent of Riot! or The Hush Sound’s Like Vines. Barely Civil’s exceptional I’ll Figure This Out was the introspective, simmering album that a pandemic year needed for late night drives, riding the currents of Jimmy Eat World’s “Polaris” and “23.” ManDancing’s The Good Sweat borrowed some of that I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child magic that launched Manchester Orchestra into the stratosphere we see them orbiting in now. Looking forward, we can see PONY’s upcoming April release promising electro-pop in the vein of Carly Rae Jepsen to fuel road trip playlists and loud sing-a-longs.
However, their latesst new release, Kali Masi’s sophomore record [laughs], is even harder to draw comparisons to the PureVolume streams and Myspace profile songs of our youths—and that’s a great thing. It continues to remind you, just like the albums mentioned above, that styles of music that you have always loved can continue to be both fresh and new while fitting into those sonic landscapes you have already heard before. Sometimes doing something familiar exceptionally well is revolutionary art.
The opening song, “Still Life,” is the longest on the album and sets the expectation of what each of these ten songs will hold for the listener. The song moves through sonic landscapes that continue to build upon each other with lyrics at once introspective and overly descriptive, conversation and confessional, you can’t help but wonder how much mewithoutYou inspires this band. In a simple lyrics, the statement of the album, what’s on the other side of all of our trials, is made: “The taller the mountain, the sweeter the view.”
The press release for [laughs] says that the album is “for feeling lonely in a room full of familiar faces, as well as for restless nights in the throes of transition and growth.” After a year of a pandemic and five years of political upheaval, it’s hard to say that these aren’t things that all of us have become accustomed to lately.
“Paint Me Jade” hits home, reminiscent musically at times of Alkaline Trio and early Gaslight Anthem, with the hardest truths of growing up: “And now my face has aged to fit my father’s” and “this was not the way my life was supposed to be.” It’s a song that promises to be screamed loud, from deep in the heart, at concerts—whenever those become a thing again.
The album builds this beautiful ebb and flow, shown best in the one-two punch of “Hurts to Laugh” that rolls through five minutes of Thursday-esque changes in song structures and melodies and “Guilt Like A Gun”—whose music video recalls the beauty and magic of the simple act of buying merch at a concert—which wouldn’t sound out of place as a slower song on a Modest Mouse record.
I’m sure you’re noticing that I keep drawing parallels to music and artists from decades ago, but this album operates in a weird present nostalgia for me in that I swear I’ve been listening to this album for most of my life, but it’s meeting me lyrically in my early thirties, not my teens.
“Long Term” gives voice to what it means to be going through a period of self-care, growth, and acceptance. It’s vulnerable and healing to shout out: “I’m not afraid to be alone, I’m not afraid to be consoled.”
One constant feeling throughout the album is that Kali Masi is pulling back, keeping everything under control. This noticeable restraint allows the moments when it drops—especially on album highlight “Recurring”—to stand out in stark difference against much of the album. However, this is not something that keeps the album feeling safe. The only song that resists this is “Freer,” easily the one song that I was left wanting more from.
The first two songs released to promote the album, “Trophy Deer” and “The Stray,” are a perfect barometer of whether or not you will like the album—after all, it’s what drew me to the band. Take This To Heart Records is on a hot streak and as long as they keep signing artists that can bring what Kali Masi bring here, who knows how long the magic will last. But I’m excited for the ride.