Make Do and Mend’s poeticism is wed to their unending willingness to get extremely personal. Ever since grappling with faith, hopelessness, and coming of age on their fantastic debut, End Measured Mile, it has been their M.O. to put it all out there. They are your oversharing friend or your angst-ridden family. Each song is a conversation with whatever demons are haunting them. So while there are lines that resemble poetry in their lyrics, what makes an album like Don’t Be Long feel so “poetic” is the consciously submitted emotion in each song. It’s less about the text than the tactic. While they don’t touch the verbosity of their peers like Touche Amore and La Dispute, theirs is a different kind of passion — an unbridled and cathartic grasp at stability through brute force.
In particular, lead singer James Carroll’s voice is so often wrought with yearning that he overtakes all else. “Sin Miedo” is a meandering track, with a bouncy chord progression for a verse, but as it slips into the pre-chorus Carroll’s throaty shout erupts, and it becomes so damn pained that any memory of the song is inevitably painted by his turmoil. His register is throaty, to say the least, and remarkably so. On “Each of Us” he hits high notes throughout the verse while still retaining every possible crack in his straining voice. It’s a style of whiskey-soaked panache that his forebears in Hot Water Music and Red City Radio have parlayed, but Carroll enacts it more liberally. This is evident in the companion to “Sin Miedo”, “Sin Amor”, where Carroll’s disdain is framed through disarmingly accusatory vocals and a guitar intro that explodes into a howling chorus. When it works, his stark, pained style is cathartic and powerful. When it doesn’t, like on the awkward aggro-rawk of “Sanctimony”, it makes the listener self-conscious for him, absorbing the weight of the blows he’s blindly throwing.
Even with all of Carroll’s character on board, the full band imports an instrumental style that they have made their own over the course of their releases. While it’s certainly been done elsewhere, their nose for driving, melodic verses over tense and tight drums is identifiable even when heard from afar. It’s a lineage that was born on Bodies of Water’s “Father” and dates through Mile’s “Keep This”, Everything You Ever Loved’s “Lucky” and now “Old Circles,” “Bluff” and “Each of Us”. The motion that this framework insists on, the unwillingness to sit back and rest, even during a verse, is their strongest gear. Unfortunately, their use of this gear is scarce on Don’t Be Long, and severely top heavy. While the three aforementioned songs inject an immediacy into the album’s first half, the rest feels sluggish. However, moments that feel like they are trying with every ounce of strength to keep up with themselves prove that Make Do and Mend are unstoppable.
Don’t Be Long is neither a return to form, nor is it a brave new direction. In many ways, Make Do and Mend never left the home they found with End Measured Mile, and now they are caught somewhere between virtuosity at their craft and stagnation. While very few new envelopes are pushed on Don’t Be Long, the strengths that they have had success with before are still more than capable of carrying an album. If you liked them before, this won’t send you packing. If you didn’t, don’t count on them changing any time soon.