It’s commonplace for me to be pitched new bands looking for my thoughts on their music, and I can’t help but feel flattered by the number of submissions I’ve received since I started writing for this site. It makes my job that much easier when being presented with music that immediately shimmers through the speakers as it does on Longsleeves debut EP, entitled Joyrider. The band is comprised of vocalist/bassist Austin Fontenot, guitarist Curtis Allison, guitarist Kyle Bauer, and drummer Matt Francis, and their charming debut is somewhere between a mix of early-Hawthorne Heights emo mixed with the polished grunge of 90’s rock acts like Smashing Pumpkins all blended with the radio-ready hooks of Gin Blossoms. The Norfolk, Virginia band has plenty to like on Joyrider, and Longsleeves are one of my “bands to watch” as their career in music seem poised for future success.
From the cautious opener of “Escape Games,” lead vocalist Austin Fontenot commands the listeners’ attention almost immediately through his delivery. The dual guitar attack from Allison and Bauer pays major dividends early on as they capture the spirit of their vocalist’s lyrics and bring depth and composure to the song. On the second verse of, “I think it’s better this way / You came around and would just say that it’s / Better for us to stay / And stick it out when all I feel is / Pain, pain / You’ll get tired of me / And the day will come when you up and leave,” Fontentot conveys the difficulties of navigating through a complex relationship before exploding into the chorus.
”Better Off” follows the gripping opener with even more depth and complexities to their well thought out brand of emo and indie rock. I particularly enjoyed the fuzz-pedaled guitars on the chorus to bring more emotion to Fontenot’s vocals, and the band’s self awareness of what they do well is rarely found at this early stage of a career. “Crystal Clear” comes up next with some airy guitars and Longsleeves show off a more sensitive side with a great sounding single. The verse of “I won’t say ‘hi,’ this isn’t a shell / You don’t comprehend and it’s clear to tell / Bury your mind and think for yourself,” seemed to stick with me for quite some time as I thought back to toxic relationships I had in high school and college that were changing me to be something that didn’t feel true to myself.
The track “Afghan” outlines in detail what it feels like to be an outsider in school, and the band’s intricate song structure on this song really brings out the raw emotion of feeling out of place and almost “stuck” in a life that doesn’t seem to be the one we envisioned for ourselves. “Run Away, Get Away” brings the record into a crystal clear focused lens of clarity as Fontenot opens with, “Reset our goals in fright / To feel like they’re attainable tonight, tonight / Save frame, rinse and re-cleanse / Constructed visions you always saw through a lens, lens,” and outlines the process of refocusing ourselves into the right frame of mind to make the bets choices that lay ahead of us.
Album closer, “Or You’ll Stay The Same” brings into focus the rich complexities the band offers in their contrast of dark lyrics with a glimmer of light and hope towards the end of it. Their lyrical advice of “One day you’ll find what you’re looking for / Hidden behind an open door / Heaven knows it won’r feel right,” is spot on in describing what it feels like to be at a crossroads, of sorts, in the path of self-discovery. It’s a great artistic statement to make at such an early stage of their career, and bands like Longsleeves are far from ordinary in their approach to songwriting. It’s only a matter of time before this band is signed to a label to help them launch into the next stratosphere of musical success. I, for one, will be cheering them on until this happens.