So Stressed are a three-piece band from Sacramento, California who pump out a brash yet melodic vein of noise rock with emo tendencies. Despite the noisy existence of Pg.99 or Jerome’s Dream, it sounds like this mixture shouldn’t work, but it really does: imagine if At The Drive-In had been influenced by White Suns, Lightning Bolt and Rolo Tomassi and you might get a vague idea.
“Attracted To Open Mouths” is an eight track journey through a dizzying subjection of emo, punk and noise rock; at little over 21-minutes long. The whole thing is refreshingly unpretentious and flows so naturally, even with some big changes in direction between certain tracks.
The album starts off with a short noise bit, rising and falling while drums solemnly strike, leading you to the first ‘real’ track A Fisherman’s Feast. It basically feels like a slow pounding on your will and existence as the drums hammer down relentlessly and the guitars interfere with weedles inbetween the snide vocals; which drip with satire and sneer with the opening lines “Now I am crying / You’ve bored me to tears” and “You’ve got the right look to be a millionaire / Now you are talking / And it is still boring / Was it a joke when you said you didn’t know?”. The track as a whole feels like the unveiling slander of a terrible person who you despise – you can’t help but get absorbed.
But next is a more uplifting experience with Little TV, a ridiculously catchy number that still retains a little noise sensibility with its volume. It sort of strikes the similar vibe to Blink 182’s self-titled album with its undeniable pop-punk “feel-good” instrumentation but clouded with a darker mood thanks to the frustrated vocals and lyrics. The track only lasts a mere 1:22 minutes and leaves you hungry for more.
Secret Beasts opens up with a Pulled Apart By Horses build-up with its slight off-kilter guitar before the drums join in similarly, however when the vocals come in, it’s almost At The Drive-In’s “Acrobatic Tenement” sound reincarnate. The highlight of the track is at 56-seconds onwards: a lone, fuzzy (yet controlled) and sinister riff carrying the track until the keys and drums come back in so smoothly that you’re caught completely off-guard by how well constructed it is. The outro passage of “Walked into the desert / There was blood on my hands / Walked into the desert / Whoah-oh-oh-oh man” is so catchy and addictive that the band could have easily stretched that part out for two minutes at least… or that’s how you wish it was.
Then we have Animals Seeking Political Asylum, something that sides more to shoegaze influences with its lethargic bassline, backing atmosphere and the tired vocals opening with “You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen”. However, the spazzy guitar and jazzy drums are let loose for a short interlude before returning to the verse again, but the track increases with intensity and anxiety, following the basic melody of the verse but each instrument have their frantic input. Again, you just want this track to last longer than it actually does. Hairstyles returns to their noise-rock sound, but at its most chaotic: sweeping, discordant guitar; flailing drums and a lot of volume and distortion attack your senses – while it goes through some interesting progressions, you end up sort of wish you could trade the time this track takes up in exchange for more of the previous ones.
Molly continues the attack for the first few seconds of its 56-second length, but manages to settle into a buzzing riff, shortly joined by the drums and vocals to create simple, punchy and driving sound. Here we arrive at the eighth and final track The Astronomical Horse, again returning to the barrage of drums and sweeping guitar backed by feedback until the synth hushes the band with its playful melody. The drums drags itself behind the synth like a reluctant kid leaving his favourite comic shop, and the synth soon heads into a more morose tune as the vocals wail over the top, eventually winding down into random noises, and fading out and closing the album..
Overall, So Stressed manage to balance an unusual mixture of noise-rock (both in sound and aggression) and the raw honesty and catchiness of emo à la early At The Drive-In. Granted that So Stressed’s sound plays extremely close to them at times, but it never feels like a rip-off, it doesn’t seem to be intentional, and intergrated moments that make you think of Hella, Rolo Tomassi and White Suns as well, they are easy to identify by their own sound. The succession of Little TV, Secret Beasts and Animals Seeking Political Asylum makes them all feel like one song that just progresses as it goes – and you’re quick to repeat it all over again when it ends.
Simply put, this album is a promising package: it has the catchiness to keep get you nodding along, the brutal aggression to keep your attention and the musicianship to catch you off-guard and surprise you. Addictive.