Emo is the sound of change. The genre’s nearly 30-year history is less a straight line than a top-heavy tree of life, with different regional scenes sprouting up every few years and branching out further and further from the D.C. post-hardcore sound that started it all. Emo has reached a particularly significant growing point now, with second-wave bands (Braid, The Jazz June) releasing new material, popular third-wave acts (Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy) still kicking, and fourth-wave bands that spent years quietly growing their scene (The World Is..., Tigers Jaw, Modern Baseball) landing on the Billboard 200.
Watching these different waves collide provides another example of what makes emo so fascinating: It’s ever-changing and hard to define. Thematically, too, much of emo is about transformation, about looking inward while growing outward—or even hoping to grow while sitting in limbo.
Sometimes that means emo bands put the most mundane parts of maturing under the microscope, but the best groups have a way of making ordinary problems feel extraordinary. The goofballs in local fourth-wave emo outfit Monument understood how to do that well, mining abstruse 20-something frustration and directionless existentialism for all its spectacular catharsis. It’s too bad they called it quits back in January, because they really began hitting their stride with the songs that eventually became their posthumous second full-length, Bros Canoeing, which is available for a pay-what-you-wish download online. (All money received will benefit House of Ruth, a local organization that works to end homelessness and abuse.)
The album’s title is a cheeky callback to Monument’s charming 2010 debut, Goes Canoeing, and it also speaks to the band’s relationship with the past. Like many bands in the newest wave of emo, Monument mines inspiration from the scrappy and occasionally serene sounds of ’90s acts from the Midwest that pushed the post-hardcore sound of Revolution Summer and Sunny Day Real Estate further toward pop (and prog, post-rock, and avant-garde). Monument never shied away from its musical lineage, but neither did it sleep in the shadows of its heroes: On Bros Canoeing, Monument waves to its forebears, borrows their knotty guitars, and uses them to plow forward.
Monument certainly progresses on Bros Canoeing, and at times the band seems driven to do better by the wrath of its own dissatisfactions. That point is clear in the multitracked vocals near the end of the second track, “Marylandification”: “I’m sick of living out my past mistakes.” These guys may be done facing down their old ghosts, but confident vocals and incrementally surging guitar riffs still maintain the emotional energy that made their past material so easy to love.
They sound better as a unit on Bros Canoeing, too—they’re more refined, and they’ve got a better grip on what they’re playing. On Monument’s older material, they’d occasionally rocket toward huge bursts with such calamitous vigor that it sounded like the band members themselves were on the verge of collapse. The emotional chaos brewing in those songs could turn into uncontrolled dissonance, which is also part of what makes that past material so exciting. Monument produces that same sense of guileless, edge-of-your-seat, in-the-moment euphoria on Bros Canoeing, but its aim is more direct, more powerful, and musically richer.
Seven years after recording some scrappy, harsh-sounding demos, the members of Monument have comfortably moved toward HD: They fill out Bros Canoeing with somber violins, clean up their vocal harmonies till they sound sugary sweet, and segue in and out of arrestingly quiet moments that are as powerful as their noisiest assaults. It all adds up to a more mature sound on tracks like “Yacht Rock,” a sprightly ripper spiked with spindly cycling guitars that segues into a lovely, serene jam, and “Krauty With a Chance of Meatballs,” a heavy, bass-driven track with a gnarly motorik beat that snowballs into a huge, heartfelt climax near its end. Both are apt calling cards for an album whose imprint sticks around long after the feelings that inspired the songs have passed.