2014 has been a mighty year for the “emo revival”. Momentum from 2013 has successfully carried over into this year, as great records from the likes of Prawn, Tigers Jaw, The Hotelier, and many more have occupied the playlists of teenagers, twentysomethings, and nostalgic adults alike. That being said, the scene as a whole has made it a long way in the past year as well. Bands like Dads and Modern Baseball are getting coverage from the likes of Billboard and Rolling Stone, and Into It. Over It. was even profiled on an episode of “Last Call with Carson Daly”.
The scene may have evolved beyond the realm of suburban basements, but it has held firm to its roots. Take Baltimore’s Have Mercy for example. In 2013, their debut record, The Earth Pushed Back, captured many people’s attention, including the folks at Hopeless Records, the breeding ground for The Wonder Years and All Time Low, arguably two of the biggest pop punk bands out there right now, who signed them earlier this year. Despite this big step in their career, Have Mercy have stayed committed to the scene that brought them to Hopeless in the first place, and their first record on the label, A Place of Our Own, rings true to this devotion. As the “emo revival” continues to push its way out of the underground, this album epitomizes the scene and, in the process, gives emo a good name.
The record is a more refined take on the sound of their debut. Swelling guitars, vocals that can be somber or loud at any given moment, and emotional subtlety are present throughout. This combination, however, serves to provide a steady catharsis rather than a full-fledged emo attack. While their debut was a tad uneven, A Place of Our Own sees Have Mercy in the driver’s seat, leading the charge in creating a well-rounded, emotional record as their execution is more effectively this time around. That being said, the eleven songs can feel a little familiar sometimes, with many sounding and feeling like others on the record.
Have Mercy share many of the qualities that make their peers great. A Place of Our Own meshes a Moose Blood-esque charisma with the variable dark catharsis of Prawn. However, while those groups lean toward the pop-punk and post-rock side of the genre respectively, Have Mercy play pretty straightforward emo. They are a little indie, a little alternative, and a little pop-punk which, when combined with an inexplicable ’emo ingredient’, creates a pretty head-on emo attack. For the most part, their execution is pretty strong, but there are a number of songs toward the back end of the record that serve to merely trudge it along. Two songs toward the end of the record, “Inch By Inch” & “Nails and Teeth in Pavement”, feel a little stale when put up against standouts like “Howl” & “Two Years”. They feel like filler, which upsets the flow of an otherwise strong record.
As a group of twentysomethings, the group treads heavier territory than some of their companions. Their take on love and loss is more mature and personal. At times, their delivery can be a tad cumbersome, like the paragraphs that take up “The Place You Love”, but the lyrics suit the sound of their respective songs fairly well. Brian Swindle’s screams of “it’s a goddamn shame” on “Pawn Takes Rook” are pure emotion, and one of the more intense moments on the record. While it isn’t his only foray into screams, these ones are memorable for the way in which they contribute to the emotional climax of the song.
One of the hallmarks of the “emo revival” is the scene’s commitment to their peers. Bands like Have Mercy look to their peers not only as friends, but as sources of inspiration. On their sophomore record, Have Mercy, despite a new label and association in a rapidly growing scene, stay true to who they are. Compared to the other great emo albums of 2014, A Place of Our Own is no Home, Like Noplace Is There or Kingfisher, but it does manage to stand tall among the sea of emo that has ruled supreme this year. It is a solid affair that doesn’t necessarily stir the pot, as much as it represents the genre as a whole; a commitment to this scene that has made it so far in the past year.