Posted by Dakine Music
Someone once told me that you are always 17 in your hometown; this also seems to be true in Eternal Summers' songs. Since their 2010 self-titled EP, the Roanoke, Virginia, duo (which recently became a trio) has been writing melodic, minimalist tunes about rules, rebellion, and first loves that conjure the bratty sweetness of the Pastels or the lilting noise-pop of Henry's Dress. They called their songs things like "Prisoner", "Cog", and "Disciplinarian". That last one kicked off their spirited but spotty 2010 album Silver: a fiery, one-and-a-half minute pop temper tantrum throughout which Nicole Yun flaunted the titular polysyllable like a 10-dollar word she'd overheard at the grown-ups' table. "I think it's high time I had a disciplinarian," she sneered. "The kind who tells me why I should follow the rules again." The taut, post-punk jerk of the verse locked her lyrics into a staccato rhythm, but when the chorus came it was like summer vacation: She threw her head back and wailed.
As its title implies, their new record, Correct Behavior, is also animated by that familiar but innocent strain of anarchy-- a distain for dumb rules and a desire to escape the mundane. "Who could understand you?" Yun hollers on "Wonder", a wickedly angsty, brooding-in-the-bedroom anthem. "Mom and Dad, please/ You can never enter/ Shut the back door." Miraculously, although the band members are all now around 30, their commitment to exploring these conflicts never feels awkward, stale, or even particularly juvenile: Their emotional immediacy and depth of feeling grows with each album. With its lush, pearly guitar tones and violin accompaniment, the lead-off track, "Millions", is the fullest-sounding thing they've ever done, but its refrain is classic Eternal Summers: "I've got to shake this shell and break it into millions." Correct Behavior feels like the band's breakout album, and not just because it showcases a bigger sound-- but for the much more literal reason that a lot of these songs are about breaking out.
Rebelling against mom and dad is one thing, but breaking free of the limits you've imposed on your own identity is trickier. Up until now, the most widely reported part of the Eternal Summers story has been their involvement with something called the Magic Twig Community, a group of musicians living in the mountains of Roanoke who all play in each others' bands, record each others' albums with vintage gear, and exist far outside the steady churn of the hype machine. In a way, Correct Behavior is the band's first attempt to break out of this sphere, too-- though with a bit of hesitation. They recorded the tracks (analog) in Roanoke, and then they sent the tapes north to New York to be mixed by Ravonettes frontman Sune Rose Wagner and producer Alonzo Vargas (the pair also worked their reverby magic on theDum Dum Girls' Only in Dreams). Having kept it lo-fi for so long, Yun and Daniel Cundiff both confessed that the move made them nervous, like they were giving up control.
The result could have been too large a leap, but Wagner and Vargas' production strikes a comfortable balance between the warmth and intimacy of the band's earlier work and a more expanded sound. The slow songs on Silver often lagged, but here they're some of the best: The dreamy crooners "Good as You" and "It's Easy" have enough atmosphere to get lost in. Cundiff's hyperactive drumming is rocket fuel for the more post-punk influenced songs like "You Kill" and "Girls in the City" (a moody, modish track on which he sings lead), and the addition of Jonathan Woods on bass frees Yun up to become a much more engaging guitarist-- check her meteorite riffage on "You Kill". The trio sounds huge, and that feeling of liberation they've always sung about is, finally, something you feel viscerally in their music.
Not every moment of Correct Behavior is as exhilarating as its opening four-song run. "Disappear" and "Heaven and Hell" weigh down the second half not so much because they're bad songs, but because they don't take the record any place it hasn't already been. And, though "Girls in the City" is a high point, Cundiff's deadpan vocals are such a departure from Yun's that the song feels tacked on, as if they haven't found a way to incorporate Cundiff's songs into their overall aesthetic. Still, these are spaces for improvement for a band obviously interested, as Correct Behavior proves, in upping its game. It's a step towards maturity, but in this case growing up just means growing louder-- busting through the bedroom ceiling and sounding that much closer to the sky.