When Colorado-via-Illinois’ Planes Mistaken For Stars released their debut album, 2001’s Fuck With Fire, they appeared to be a better-than-average screamo band lost in a crowd of screamo bands, and they arrived at the very moment that scene was gaining a foothold in (or adjacent to) the mainstream. But they weren’t really a screamo band. By the time they got to LP2, 2004’s Up In Them Guts, PMFS had advanced about a dozen levels; they’d altogether abandoned and transcended genre, and sounded like nothing else in music. They were playing an unholy hybrid of death metal, math rock, noise, and some unusually filthy strain of American hardcore/punk. Their music somehow conjured wild-eyed violence tinged with autumnal melancholy. Fuck With Fire is a very good album, but Up In Them Guts and its followup, 2006’s Mercy, are two of my favorite LPs ever. Over the past decade I probably haven’t gone more than two weeks without spinning “Belly Full Of Hell” or “Crooked Mile.”
The screamo tag was especially inapt because PMFS frontman Gared O’Donnell doesn’t scream. From a distance, his singing bears a resemblance to screaming, but that’s his actual voice: He’s got these asphalt-shredded vocal cords, and the sound they produce is one of the best things in the whole world. It’s melodic and textured and hoarse and urgent, and I can’t understand why it hasn’t inspired a thousand imitators. The best I can come up with is this: Nobody else can do it.
PMFS split after Mercy, but they reunited once in a while for some live shows. (I saw them twice during their hiatus and they absolutely blew the doors off both times.) Last year, they reissued Mercy via the excellent Deathwish Inc., at which point they also announced they had been “quietly and persistently working on new music, due to surface on Deathwish sometime in the future.”
Well, the future is now. Planes Mistaken For Stars’ fourth album is titled Prey, and it’s the bleakest, most harrowing thing they’ve ever recorded, but also the most nuanced and beautiful. It still hits like a slapshot to the jaw and rips like a dirtbike over dunes, but the sadness that always lurked in the corners has moved closer to the center. According to the press materials, “In need of isolation to finish writing the album, founder Gared O’Donnell took to the road alone [where] he found himself driving deep into the crumbling heart of middle America. There, Gared took up residence in decrepit motels, finding inspiration in the descending darkness surrounding him.”
I have no idea if that’s true, but I can absolutely, clearly, hear all those settings and hues in the music. A few weeks back, PMFS dropped Prey’s first single, “Fucking Tenderness,” and today, we’re premiering another one. It’s called “Riot Season,” and it’s perfect. O’Donnell’s voice has grown even more weathered and ragged in the decade since Mercy, and it sounds better today than it ever did before. Which means it sounds better than just about anything. Listen.
O’Donnell shared this quote regarding the song, if you want to know a bit more about where it comes from:
In regard to “Riot Season,” it’s one of my faves and was, I believe, the last song slapped together for Prey. Largely based off of some riffs of [guitarist Neil Keener’s] — much to his chagrin, he always ends up pooh-poohing his songs — I wrote the lyrics with a LeatherFace, New Model Army, Killing Joke kind of vibe in mind. Political, without painting ourselves in a corner. Every generation has a crucial time, a violent time, a time of dread. This is our time. Read between the lines, it’s vital we draw a line in the sand regarding control of ourselves, our dreams, our rights, our spirits. It is clear we are all privy to the puppet show, it’s up to you to decide if you are gonna pay for the ticket.
Prey is out 10/21 via Deathwish. Pre-order it here. The band are touring a little bit, too, and you should definitely go see them if they’re coming to where you live.
10/26 Chicago, IL @ Township
10/27 Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club
10/28 Savannah, GA @ Dollhouse Productions
10/30 Gainesville, FL @ The Wooly – THE FEST
10/31 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
11/01 Nashville, TN @ The End
11/02 St. Louis, MO @ Fubar
11/03 Oklahoma City, OK @ 89th Street Collective
11/04 Austin, TX @ Sound On Sound Fest