Emo is a funny little adjective. Just three letters, but say the wrong thing about emo and you'll fire people up so they sound like they're defending their own mother from a vicious attack. Emo experts are certain as the day they were born of where it came from, what it was meant to be, what it has become and where it is going. Emo aficionados guard their precious little three-letter genre like their only child. They just get so ... so emotional over it. What gives?
Emo is a lot of things based in punk, tattered by heartbreak and, most recently, commercialized by the industry but there's one thing it is not: pigeonholed easily. The vast genre boasts many incredible musicians and shrugs off many more who don't cut it. Small Brown Bike are most definitely not of the latter kind.
While many acts exploit the emotionally compelling appeal of emo (perfectly suited to teenage angst) and butter it up with the catchiest of pop (a method mimicked time and again), the foursome retain devotion to communicating their feelings honestly through sound without relying on plastic melodies to sell the result.
The Minnesota band's Lookout! debut, The River Bed, is heavy, rumbling and abrasive post-punk rock paired with aching emotion and creepy, rolling beats that grab hold of you. There is no dueling scream/singing (common to emocore, screamo or whatever you wanna call it), but guitarist Travis Dopp, drummer Jeff Gensterblum and bassist Ben Reed all help lead singer/guitarist Mike Reed with backup, howling cries of desperation.
The reverberating "Safe in Sound" features suspenseful, booming buildups and adrenaline-pumping bursts of intensity, while the slow, haunting "Sincerely Yours" repeats a single, tingling riff and longs passionately for a past lover. The deeply touching "The Outline of Your Hand Still Remains on My Hand" is also sluggish and heartfelt, featuring resonating, lunging guitar and precise, pulsating beats. The 10-track album closes aptly with "A Lesson to Remember," which combines tickling acoustic strums, pedal steel and whispered singing that stirs one's insides.
Ask emo's so-called experts what the three-letter word stands for, and you'll be pelted with a dozen conflicting replies. Ask Small Brown Bike and you'll get one: Who cares? Don't let the heart get lost in translation life is too short.