Of the many genres of music to be routinely pronounced dead by their traditionalist and purist fans, emo is one of the more recent examples. Whilst I have personally never recognised any substance behind the phrase ‘____ is dead’, I can certainly understand why one may be driven to express such an idea. Indeed, there are few artists who fall under the emo label to have emerged in recent years that have genuinely advanced the genre or played with its defining characteristics in any significant or original way as to broaden its purpose. As such, skimming the surface of contemporary emo bands may give off the impression that the genre is stagnating. Of course, the reason I disagree with generalising an entire genre by its most successful and prominent acts is because there are always interesting things to be found beneath the surface. With regards to emo, Remo Drive, a trio of newcomers in the scene, fit the bill for a band who have the potential to shake things up. The singles leading up to the release of their debut album, amusingly entitled Greatest Hits, piqued my interest with regards to the group’s individual approach to emo, exhibiting impressive songwriting chops and funny, self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, all of which came packaged in somewhat of a punk-inspired, DIY aesthetic. With my prior exposure to Remo Drive before this album alluding to a significant amount of potential for the group as an act who could carve out a definitive place for themselves within the contemporary climate of emo music, I was, above all else, intrigued to see whether or not Greatest Hits would live up to this expectation. Indeed, the best moments on this record establish an approach to emo music that is definitively Remo Drive’s own and hint further at better things for the band, but much of the album also edges a bit too close to sounding rather familiar, with the trio often wearing their influences on their sleeve. As such, although Greatest Hits is somewhat of a mixed release at times and comes across as a tentative feel of the waters, I am no less expectant of Remo Drive becoming a prominent name in today’s emo scene.
The best tracks from Greatest Hits build on the trend set by the singles of solid song structuring, funny lyrics with a slightly sardonic and pessimistic edge to them and impassioned performances. In this regard, Remo Drive are hardly reinventing the emo wheel on any of these cuts, rather they are appealing to the genre’s best principles and approaching them from their own distinct angle. The album’s lead single, Yer Killin’ Me, which was responsible for turning a lot of underground rock fans onto the band, encapsulates many of the band’s best qualities. The band skips all the nonsense for the introduction to this song, with the cut instantly breaking into the first verse, an explosion of fuzzed-out chords, caveman-like drumming and frontman Erik Paulson’s whiney, berating lyrics, which is over in 10 seconds before the band regains its cool for the chorus, as Paulson recites his hyperbolic line of, “You make me want to start smoking cigarettes so I die slowly”. Given how quickly the group blisters through the song’s main structure, when the second chorus builds up to breaking point as Paulson yells, “You’re killing me”, it feels as if the track is going to end there. However, at this point, which is about a minute and 20 seconds into the cut, the band introduces a completely new section that amounts to a fiddly indie rock ditty, complete with duelling guitar and bass licks as the drums control the dynamics of the jam. For such a bold risk, it pays off rather well and demonstrates that Remo Drive have the ability to shake things up should they so choose. Outside of the singles, there are some other highlights from Greatest Hits, with the opening track, Art School, being perhaps the best testament to the band’s songwriting chops on the entire album. The song is built on a solid guitar riff that has a bit of a surf rock vibe when played with the band’s grumbling walls of guitar fuzz, and Paulson’s vocal performance is maybe his most emotive on Greatest Hits, with the swooping melodies pertaining well to his slightly nasal voice. I’m My Own Doctor is certainly a stand-out track on the album, largely as a result of its tongue-in-cheek lyrics sung from the perspective of some sort of hypochondriac who is in denial of what may be causing the health problems that they are convinced they have, (“It couldn’t be excessive caffeine, dehydration or a lack of sleep”). Similarly, in a typical self-destructive emo manner, Name Brand focusses on the economic hardships of many young adults that are exacerbated by their bad habits, such as insisting on buying name brands, (“I piss away my money on this bourgeoisie coffee”). Indeed, the best moments from Greatest Hits are not revolutionary for emo, rather they adhere quite closely to its typical tropes, but Remo Drive demonstrate a particular and definitive means of presenting themselves that makes them stand out from the majority of bands working within a similar paradigm today.
This being said, in spite of this record’s highs, its low-points, whilst by no means bad, slip into the kind of by the numbers emo blueprint that does little to advance Remo Drive’s musical identity, rather it risks the group sounding like the bevy of other independent emo artists operating currently. Eat Shit, for instance, follows a cut and dried formula in its structuring, packaged within a concise timeframe, within which very little of note happens. This is also one point on Greatest Hits wherein the one-dimensional production lets the recording down to an extent. Throughout the entirety of the record, Remo Drive capture a very raw, homespun, rough around the edges sound that works for certain tracks, but hinders the impact of others, not to mention the fact that an entire album’s worth of this production style becomes somewhat jarring after a certain amount of time. Indeed, Eat Shit is one of numerous tracks on the album that quite clearly allude to a strong Weezer influence for Remo Drive and, as such, the incredibly muddy guitars feel relatively out of place and swamp the mix at times, when it seems that some brighter production and cleaner instrumentation could have benefited the song significantly. Similar problems appear on Summertime, which features some of the quietest moments on Greatest Hits during its verse sections, but the impact of such passages are diminished by the claustrophobic and tinny recording of the guitars and drums, and the fact that Paulson’s vocals are drowned out in the mix slightly. Ultimately, therefore, the glaring flaws of this album don’t solely arise from a lack of artistic scope conveyed on certain tracks, but also some unfortunate technical imperfections that regrettably come with the DIY recording style of the band. Of course, issues such as these are hardly arduous to resolve, so future releases from Remo Drive could surely overcome the technical shortcomings of Greatest Hits.
Overall, the most significant songs on Greatest Hits stand out to such an extent that Remo Drive have begun to pave the way for a definitive place within the contemporary emo scene. At the end of the day, although this album is most definitely far from perfect, its most prominent flaws arise either from the band’s frugal recording situation or simply a lack of experience. As such, future output from Remo Drive certainly seems promising, especially given that Greatest Hits has brought a lot of newfound attention to the band, which will hopefully get them signed to a label or, at the very least, create enough income for the group to invest in improved studio equipment. The most impressive debut albums tend to present a fully-formed sound and pre-established musical identity for the artist and, in some regards, Greatest Hits does this for Remo Drive, although not entirely consistently. Nonetheless, the amount of heads this album has turned is for good reason and, given time to hone their sound, Remo Drive could surely hold a prominent position within the underground emo scene.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10