Who It Is: The Ground is Lava - Bottle Rockets; Self-Released (2013)
What It Sounds Like: Jangly, friendly emo, catchy choruses, and having fun
The sophomore full length, “Bottle Rockets”, from Brunswick, Ohio’s The Ground is Lava feels just like you’d expect any record with song titles that reference the 1996 film, “Jingle All The Way” to sound. That is to say, it’s jangly, twinkly, professionally sloppy, and all kinds of fun, while maintaining the youthful romantic disillusionment that we’ve all come to expect in emo. “Bottle Rockets” exudes the energy of a time when John Galm jokes weren’t funny, and “The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die” was “too long to be a band name”. If you listen closely, you can probably hear the sounds of people making National Lampoon’s Vacation references and talking about beards in the background. The Ground is Lava have outdone themselves, and their scene peers, in “Bottle Rockets”, and also somehow constructed a device that will transport you back to 1999.
The first track, “Not Tonight, Jeff”, begins with an energetic, syncopated guitar riff that you’ll be trying (and failing) to sing to yourself for days after you hear it. The equally catchy vocals come in soon after the first few measures of guitar and carry you away. Thematically, this track isn’t particularly special, just another plea for intimacy the likes of which anyone familiar with this genre has certainly heard before, but the lyrics are still strong and the chorus is ridiculously catchy.
The rest of the album continues in the same vein: twinkly melodies (except for the awesome chordy bits that explode into the beginning of the track “Nobody Likes You, Booster”) and half-shouted, half-sung vocals. Eric Sandt’s drumming will probably make you want to dance or, if you’re the type of person who is too cool to dance, make you furiously and stylishly nod your head to the beat of every chorus. Jonathan Rogers’ guitar lines noodle and twinkle and do just about everything in between, creating songs that are structurally much more complex and varied than those of The Ground is Lava’s previous work. While stylistically very similar to musicians like Mike Kinsella or “that dude from Algernon Cadwallader”, there’s so much friendliness and ability in his playing that it becomes unique. Likewise, Jordan Valentine’s bass creates moving swells and builds, as in the hook of the track “Willow Tree”.
One of the two big complaints that will probably be made about “Bottle Rockets” is that, in terms of production quality, it isn’t gold. It beats TGIL’s first release, “Freeze Tag”, which sounds like it was recorded in a garage or living room, by a long mile. Now, as anybody who listens to as much emo as I do will tell you, this lo-fi nonsense is actually a trope of the genre, and a big part of the scene’s DIY ethic. Expecting professional-quality recordings from an emo band is like expecting the Republican Party to raise taxes. It will probably never happen, and you should be suspicious if it does. “Bottle Rockets” went where The Ground is Lava appear to have never gone before (a studio) and brought back a well-produced, but still very fuzzy and warm, sound.
“Franklin”, track two, is the other complaint. Taken on it’s own, “Franklin” is fun and wild, with a fast pace that charges in leaps and bounds from your ears to your legs and makes them dance. The vocals have a bit of an edge that, for the most part, isn’t really heard on the rest of the album, but that isn’t really a problem in emo, right? The issue I take with “Franklin” is that it doesn’t feel like it has matured with the band. The guitars are catchy, the bass vibes, the drums kick, but the song doesn’t go anywhere that the band hasn’t been before. “Franklin” seems more similar to songs like “Cry in Yr Breakfast” from “Freeze Tag” than it does to the rest of this “Bottle Rockets”. The great part of this record is it’s maturity, and that is what “Franklin” really lacked.
The absolute best song on this album, hands down, is “Look, Babe, An Island (We Can Live on It)”. It is simultaneously the most typical emo song of all time and the most idiosyncratic, adorable and painful song that I have heard this genre produce in a very, very long time. The noodly, high guitars that give way to chordy choruses are at once a bit too-reminiscent of Algernon Cadwallader, and also so characteristically The Ground is Lava that you can’t help but smile when you hear them come in. “Look, Babe”’s lyrics sum up the entire experience of a long distance relationship so succinctly and perfectly that even if you’re lucky enough to have never endured one, you’ll feel like you have. Perfect lines like “how it feels good to be someone’s something, or anyone’s anything” just hit you in the gut, and nostalgic imagery just pours out of lines like “show me the top of your tree-house”.
This brings me to one of the golden points of “Bottle Rockets”. While the instrumentation is delightful in every track, combining mathy, technical expertise with fun, occasionally sloppy—high praise, in a post-Snowing punk-rock-meets-American-Football world—bridges, nothing on this album (save the drums in “Driving Through the Mountains At Night (Tight)”) compares to the sheer number of golden lyrical one-liners in “Bottle Rockets”. I may be a sucker for great lyrics, and anything acoustic, but lines like “I’m comfortable around you, ‘cuz you’re comfortable to be with” from “Willow Tree” or the chorus of “Smashers” just get to me in a way that few other things do.
The special thing about The Ground is Lava is that they don’t pretend to be anything they aren’t. At heart, they’re still just kids having fun, and this comes out in their lyrics and in their music. It’s often a very sad album, but I don’t think you can listen to “Bottle Rockets” without a grin on your face, and you just know that they had the same smile while they were recording these songs. It’s honest and compelling and nostalgic, and shaping to be the best emo album of the next few years.
Overall Rating: 9/10
- Franco Tort
Franco Tort is my idol.