California natives Meet Me In Montauk didn’t do a whole lot wrong on their 2015 debut Where The Grass Meets The Pavement, a late and triumphant charge in the ongoing ’emo revival’ saga. A mix of angst, emotion, melody and intricate guitar work, the record rarely missed a beat, and since discovering it recently I’ve spun it frequently – enjoying it every single time. I’d downloaded it initially in March, but didn’t listen to it until late December, meaning that at the start of January I was cursing myself for sleeping for so long on a band whose name came from one of my favourite films (or that almost-as-great Circa Survive song), and whose music was also pretty great. WTGMTP seemed to capture everything I enjoy about the ’emo’ genre and its loose cousins, a passionate and well-penned introspective epic. It goes without saying then, that when the band approached me with its follow-up I was keen to give it a listen, and after having done so several times I’m impressed, with Dork Soul perhaps not better than the band’s debut, but very good regardless.
The second paragraph of this review begins with a comparison, and it’s one which is important to highlight, because if said comparison appeals to you then you probably don’t need to read the rest of this lengthy, rambling review. Meet Me In Montauk, this time out, sound a lot like Free Throw (Count Your Lucky Stars band), and Free Throw, last time out, sound a lot like Meet Me In Montauk this time out. It didn’t take long for the vocal similarities to highlight this, and the more I listen to Dork Soul the more I imagine that any fan of Free Throw should be a fan of MMIM likewise. I hope that in pointing this out I’m not taking anything away from either band – I just thought it worth mentioning. Meet Me In Montauk are their own band, and Those Days Are Gone is not the same as Dork Soul. It’s just that what I liked about one record can also apply to the other (to an extent).
I liked Those Days Are Gone because it didn’t hold back, but it was also pretty good fun in light of the turmoil it expressed. Dork Soul is rife with a similar set of satisfyingly self-deprecating lines which appeal to a modern, equally angsty audience, and the band rarely hold back lyrically, merging catchy and memorable lines with doses of poignant self-doubt. Meet Me In Montauk’s second record is a sure-fire success in this regard, and with several members contributing vocally it manifests a collective sort of sorrow, whilst refusing to be bogged down or wallow in the wake of it all – instead finding some kind of positivity at the other end. Lyrically Dork Soul is a means of digestion, seeking for a way to move forwards, a series of conflicted and harrowing thought processes spewed out in an effort to come to terms and move on. It’s a rocky, tenuous and tumultuous ride, but it ultimately comes across as optimistic in spite of its bleaker moments. Songs like Feeling Of Regret lower the tone, but they’re normally followed by something oddly uplifting – in this case the title track – the two songs beginning the second half of Dork Soul with a quickfire series of ups and downs. Dork Soul shifts between buoyant and weighted often, but its final few tracks seem to pick up the pieces, and then piece them back together. Tenth track Please Don’t, It’ll Only Make Things Worse was my favourite selection from the record, direct with its dissatisfaction, stating ‘You didn’t find God, you found an excuse’, offering a slim sense of closure. It’s easy to get onboard with, and the sentiments it shares are easy to relate to; Dork Soul is a record for the modern alternative masses.
It doesn’t take long for Meet Me In Montauk to appeal to those masses either, and it’s an indisputably good sign when the first ten seconds of a record remain stuck in your head some ten days after first hearing them. Fuck You Song is an instant winner, I was nodding my head along immediately, and did for the rest of the song, which opens with the lines ‘I don’t care if you had good intentions, fuck you’ and continues in this spirited fashion. It’s a triumphant and charismatic opener which a friend described as something she’d ‘sing along to in the shower’ (she assured me this was a good thing), and it’s easy to see why, given how infectiously catchy the song is – surging along. For real, check it out below and tell me that it didn’t immediately cheer you up. Fifth track Party Pressure is equally direct, asking ‘What did you do today?’ and then promptly declaring ‘I don’t give a shit.’ It’s moments like these were Dork Soul proves a good time with its aggressive, upbeat charm, but the record has its bleaker songs, and these prove substantially sad, second track Finished Something For Once lamenting ‘I just suck, with no good luck / I’m not happy, you’re not happy, we’re not happy at all / So I’ll make you happy, so damn happy when I end it all.’ The record spends a lot of time ruminating on falling asleep at the wheel, even has a song titled that, and it’s that sort of record. However, said song begins oddly carefree given its title, and finds strength lyrically in the face of this fear.
Falling Asleep At The Wheel is one of the many instances where Dork Soul proves to be ultimately more mature than its predecessor thematically, and elsewhere the record boasts a great deal of creativity instrumentally, with tracks smoothly shifting on a whim from one style to another. Dork Soul likes to sound weird, as it does on Who’s The Baby? which suddenly jumps and stabs sonically before returning to beach blues. At times I was reminded of …Is A Real Boy-era Say Anything – that manic and engaging mood going through the motions. Sometimes it all sounds a little messy, and at times the production seems to mute some moments, but as a whole the record is an interesting insight, forever hinting at being unhinged. Each song is different in its own way as mathy time signatures dance and dart, gang vocals croon, handclaps encourage, and every now and then there’s hints of off-kilter jazz (although that could just be me). Dork Soul seems to rejoice in its uncanny appeal, and that’s rarely clearer than it is on closer If You’re A Bird Then I’m A Bird, which starts slow, speeds to a frantic frenzy and then takes the foot off the gas again, cruising over catchy swinging instrumentation. It adds layers towards a grand finish, and it captures the essence of Dork Soul very well at the death – it’s raucous and rallying, made for small rooms but saying more than enough to stretch beyond them.
There’s no reason 2016 shouldn’t be the year that Meet Me In Montauk really establish a place for themselves within the current scene, with Dork Soul building on their excellent debut if not necessarily beating it. It bleeds emotion and is exceptionally expressive, creatively penned and cathartically carried, bold instrumentation meeting thoughtful introspective lyrics, and above all it adopts a weirdly wonderful approach which is difficult to resist (and interpret). Dork Soul is the awkward guest at the sad-punk party, the oddball character, and I suppose that’s what I really liked it about it.
Listen to: Fuck You Song / Who’s The Baby? / Please Don’t, It’ll Only Make Things Worse