The Buffalo band Lemuria didn’t release their debut album until 2008, but they started in 2004. And they’ve always sounded something like 2004, or at least like my version of 2004. That means they sound like Spock haircuts, like H&M sweaters, like road trips in beat-up cars that still have tape decks instead of CD players, like Yeungling, like crushed-up Ritalin, like back issues of Optic Nerve scattered around bedroom floors, like semi-ironically getting really into The O.C. and American Idol, like browsing music writers’ blogs in the endless downtime at my office job, like signing up for Netflix only because the local neighborhood video-rental place doesn’t have Jaws 3. I am, as you’ve probably already figured out, pretty ridiculously sentimental about this period in my life, and I hear that sentimentality mirrored back to me in Lemuria’s plainspoken, harmony-rich, vaguely emo DIY music.
But I’ve seen other critics — critics who are presumably older than me, or who maybe just wish they were — comparing Lemuria’s music to the not-quite-codified-yet pop-punk of the late ’90s, and maybe that has something to do with it being the era about which they’re sentimental. Meanwhile, when I was listening to Lemuria this morning, my five-year-old asked me if I was listening to Taylor Swift. That probably has something to do with Lemuria co-leader Sheena Ozzella’s forcefully plaintive delivery, and it probably also has something to do with the kid’s limited frame of reference. (He pretty much only listens to Taylor Swift and the Moana soundtrack, and Lemuria definitely do not sound like the Moana soundtrack.) But maybe it also has something to do with the fact that he’s sentimental about right now. Maybe Lemuria just bring that sentimentality out of people.
For their fourth album, Lemuria sent copies to anyone who bought a secret bundle from their website in the last few weeks, and they did that before announcing the album. These days, that’s about as close as you can come to that old whispery word-of-mouth way that bands like Lemuria used to find their audience. Whatever is left of the old DIY system is Lemuria’s home. There’s nothing hard about their music — it’s warm and approachable and pretty — but the storied hardcore label Bridge Nine was still the party responsible for releasing 2014’s The Distance Is So Big, their last album. Once upon a time, Lemuria would’ve been a mixtape band — a group whose music found its way around via physical objects, passed from friend to friend. And they’re holding onto that feeling, actually passing physical objects out to the people who, on blind faith, send them money.
In the hazy tangle of the band’s power-pop, you can hear echoes of different generations of indie rock. There’s some Yo La Tengo in there, and some Rainer Maria. But there’s also a driving sense of catchiness that clearly comes from pop-punk. The band splits its songwriting duties between two different voices, singer/guitarist Ozzella and singer/drummer Alex Kerns, and both of them have a way with memorable and economical bouts of insightful introversion. Ozzella: “I’m not a Stevie, I’m a Christie McVie.” Kerns: “The last of my bloodline, I’ll get to end this / I’m the last leaf trembling.” This time around, they recorded much of the album with producer Chris Shaw, a music-biz lifer who’s worked with bands like Weezer and Wilco. And they’ve fleshed their music out with flourishes that weren’t on older records: a bit of horn on one song, some keyboard plinks on another. But the band also spent time recording with old collaborator J. Robbins, the former Jawbox frontman who helped pioneer the post-hardcore sound, echoes of which you can still hear in Lemuria’s stop-start rhythms. But Lemuria’s authorial voice is strong enough that, without checking the liner notes, you can’t really tell which songs they did with Shaw and which ones they made with Robbins.
Lemuria have been around for a while now, long enough to make four albums. They’ve made subtle tweaks to their sound, but it’s still the same homespun-headrush music they’ve always made. It’s an intensely likable sound. And while the members of the band are assuredly older than 24, they still sound, at least to me, like the age of 24, the age I was in 2004. That sense of excitement and anxiety and brokeness and idiocy hums through the album like electricity through wires. And during that weird end-of-year lull when the only albums coming out are rote and obligatory major-label rap records, an album like this is a lifeboat. Grab it and get sentimental.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Eminem’s tourettic blockbuster yammerfest Revival.
• N.E.R.D.’s guest-heavy return No_one Ever Really Dies.
• Brockhampton’s “last studio album” Saturation III.
• Charli XCX’s experimental-pop mixtape Pop2.
• Scarface’s fire-breathing companion piece Deeply Rooted: The Lost Files.
• Jeezy’s out-of-nowhere Pressure.
• Art Feynman’s Near Negative EP.