I love PB&J just as much as the next guy, but I also tend to be a man of complements. Just as peanut butter and jelly come together to form the universe’s most delicious sandwich concoction, there are some foods that just don’t taste as good on their own. Thankfully, Better Off brings the spotlight to the PB&J and milk combo — one that works because the peanut butter’s sticky qualities require a liquid washing and the bread’s melting isn’t enough to do the trick. It’s obvious that some things are greater than the sum of their parts, and these Nashville rockers definitely play to this idea. On Milk, they put bruising punk melodies alongside slow-roasted emo goodness. While the result may be as commonplace as PB&J, it’s still something worth taking a bite out of.
Better Off is the kind of band that sounds like a hundred other bands out there, but they excel at what they do well: writing high-energy, heavily-layered rock songs with a ton of feeling. On their first album, it was easy to call them the lovechild of Jimmy Eat World and Brand New. On Milk, however, they’ve turned their amps up so high that it drowns out those thoughts. While they do play to their influences at times, they do so in small punches. If you’ve seen them live, you know exactly how hard they hit; it’s something that wasn’t as evident in the more texturized (I Think) I’m Leaving, but comes in the thrashiness of the riffs and thickness of the vocals in this release.
The band kicks things off with a jam of a track — and by jam, I don’t mean strawberry jam. “Empty Handed” features thick riffs and frenzied execution, and while it’s extremely raw, it’s also a highly memorable song thanks to Luke Granered’s wailing voice. When the instrumentation isn’t heart-pounding, it’s tugging at the heartstrings. A lot of the emotion is packed in the vocals, with the frontman humming the verses and yelling the choruses in songs like “Dresser Drawer” and the youthful punk rocker “Whatever, I Don’t Care.” In the vein of Jesse Lacey, Granered often layers his vocals, creating powerful harmonies with himself while also making use of his range. In this record, it aligns with the musical punch, especially with the throb of “Mary In Chains” and furious melodies of “You’re Alright.” The latter brings in some new influences as well, suggesting the group has been listening to a lot of modern indie rock, a la From Indian Lakes, lately.
It’s when Better Off slows things down, though, that they show more color and passion. Following “Whatever, I Don’t Care” are perhaps the two best slow songs these guys have ever done, and they showcase both songwriting expertise and unrestrained expression. “A Lesson In Loving” is perhaps an ode to Futures-era Jimmy Eat World. Atmospheric guitar strums create a time and place for the brutally honest lyrics, the complete package uniquely offsetting the rambunctious, playful punk displayed throughout the 44-minute album. “Bella Disorder” isn’t a stripped-down slow song, but it does take a dark turn with its vivid lines about image discontentment. If the rest of the album channels Your Favorite Weapon, track 10 shows maturity into Deja territory.
On their second full-length, Better Off shapes their sound to better represent their live energy while continuing to flaunt their impressive writing and cohesiveness as a unit. Their sound may still be a overcome by their influences of early 2000s emo, but the quartet is able to pack everything together in a way that sounds fairly modern and fresh. PB&J sandwiches may not include any meat, but fortunately, Milk isn’t lacking much meat at all. One of the year’s most engaging pop-punk/emo/indie/whatever records sticks to the genre’s core elements, succeeding where past bands also have, but taking risks at times, too. It’s a record that’s as fun to pull apart and examine as it is to kick back and blast at full volume, and that’s due to the emotional and musical depth raging below its surface. Though its cover may make you hungry, Milk is sure to leave you full.
Emo/Pop-Punk | Equal Vision Records