I don’t know how or why the term “skramz” started. It’s an ugly, clumsy word, but it’s useful. Functionally, “skramz” pretty much means “what screamo used to be.” The term “screamo” itself was a goofy little portmanteau, a cute way of describing all these late-’90s bands — Orchid, Pg. 99, Antioch Arrow, Reversal Of Man, Hot Cross — who took the brutalist rush of hardcore and applied it to dynamic, intense, exposed-nerve expression, creating a charged and wounded hybrid. But there was gold in them there hills, and the term “screamo” eventually fell to the briefly huge wave of mid-’00s Warped Tour bands like Hawthorne Heights and Thrice. It’s a corrupted term, and rather than reclaim it, fans apparently now use “skramz” as a sort of shorthand to describe the sounds that preceded that whole commercial wave. Bands seem to be actively willing to declare themselves skramz now, even though any band would’ve sneered at being called screamo in the late ’90s. The word “skramz” is right there in the tags on the Bandcamp page of Closer, a powerful new New York trio, alongside kinda-the-same-thing terms like “screamo” and “punk” and “emo” and “melodic hardcore” and “post-hardcore.” It’s helpful, and it might lend some insight into how an album like this came to be. Because All This Will Be, Closer’s debut album, feels like three people binged a bunch of old screamo records together and then decided to form a band that sounds like that.
That old-school screamo sound was a product of desperate kids in provincial basements. That’s not Closer’s situation — at least, not as far as I can tell. Singer and drummer Ryann Slauson is an artist and poet. She makes videos where she puts her poems over anime footage, or installations where she sculpts everyday objects (Mountain Dew bottles, innertubes, cigarette butts) out of plaster and papier-mâché. Meanwhile, guitarist Matthew Van Asselt leads Real Life Buildings, a sort of Brooklyn indie-rock supergroup that also features members of Vagabon and Crying, and Closer bassist Griffin Irvine also plays in that band. Real Life Buildings make discursive, erudite music, and it doesn’t really share much with the headrush clangor of Closer. The difference between the two bands is even starker than the difference between Sorority Noise and Old Gray, the old-school side project led by Sorority Noise frontman Cam Boucher.
But where Real Life Buildings haven’t really struck a chord with me yet, Closer grabbed me immediately. Their sound is raw and urgent and scratchy and visceral, but it’s also thoughtful and dynamic. There are long stretches of twinkly, atmospheric guitar that remind me of Explosions In The Sky, and those moments feed right into the cathartic climaxes. There’s a stretch of one song where someone reads a slightly muffled poem over an instrumental — something that also happened on Slow Burn, the really great album that Old Gray put out about a year ago. And when Closer lurch into high gear, as on the scorching opener “Gift Shop,” they can sound almost like black metal.
But the thing that really sets Closer apart is Slauson. Her voice is an absolute clarion, cutting its way across these gnarled arrangements and forcing its way into your consciousness. All three members of the band sing, but the two guys are clearly just supporting players; Slauson’s voice is always at the center. And while it’s not entirely clear who writes what — the liner notes just go with “lyrics, music, and art by Closer” — it probably pays to have a poet as the singer of your band. Slauson is great at short, staccato hardcore boilerplate: “This sickness / My wreckage / No sleep / No sweat / Give in / Give up / Give up / This cost.” But she also has a talent for coming up with short, evocative phrases that lodge themselves in your brain: “You talk slow / You’re Tennessee railroad.” The music conjures alone-in-the-world feelings: “All these people / And I just want to crawl / Under the porch / Where I belong.” And while it doesn’t exactly make solitude sound like a party, it makes other people seem like vampires: “The ones that you need will consume you.” But disconnected imagery might be Slauson’s greatest gift; my favorite moment on the album is on “This Year,” where she chants “Blurry nosebleed / Heaven help me” over and over.
All This Will Be isn’t revivalism. These are people using old sounds to convey grand, raw feelings, doing it as forcefully as possible. Closer are a DIY band; they don’t have a publicity machine working for them, and they’ve chosen, perhaps purposefully, a name that’s not that easy to Google. So All This Will Be feels like a rare thing: an album that you have to work to discover, one that might feel like it’s talking directly to you. That’s what screamo used to be like. And if more of it had always been like that, maybe we wouldn’t have to use the word “skramz.”
Other albums of note out this week:
• Tune-Yards’ lively, yelpy I can feel you creep into my private life.
• First Aid Kit’s gleamingly rootsy Ruins.
• Porches’ synthy sashay The House.
• Shopping’s fun, rickety postpunker The Official Body.
• Xylouris White’s experimental folk LP Mother.
• The Go! Team’s joyously genre-fusing Semicircle.
• Bedbug’s intimate, lo-fi I’ll Count To Heaven In Years Without Seasons.
• Cadence Weapon’s self-aware, self-titled rap album.
• They Might Be Giants’ reliably melodic dork-popper I Like Fun.
• Druid Lord’s death/doom wallow Grotesque Offerings.
• Haunt’s chops-heavy metaller Luminous Eyes.
• Strand Of Oaks’ companion-piece album Harder Love.
• The Shins’ album revision The Worm’s Heart.
• Mudhoney’s live LP LiE.
• Belle And Sebastian’s How To Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 2 EP.
• Jono Ma & Dreems’ The Dreemas EP.