If there isn’t a subgenre called “Pessimistic Pop Punk”, Los Angeles’ Spanish Love Songs can be its pioneers. Packing their propulsive riffs with brutally honest and self-evicerating lyrics, the group’s latest full-length album Schmaltz is as catchy and hard-hitting as it is poignant.
The track that best encompasses everything that Spanish Love Songs is is the mini-epic “The Boy Considers His Haircut”. Opening with a candid self-acknowledgement of all the criticisms of his band and music style that lead singer has gotten from his parents (and likely any critics of his band), the song then evolves into a tireless cavalcade of confessions (“Cause I’ve lived my whole life so afraid of being hurt, that I’ve never really been hurt”) and hopes to accomplish even the smallest of goals (“I want to find a haircut that fits me that hasn’t been co-opted by Nazis”). It’s darkly funny, even if the singer doesn’t see it that way at the moment. All of this is packed into four minutes of vocal-chord wrecking punk wailing and anthemic choruses.
Before and after this pivotal piece are a collection of songs about depression, anxiety and loss that are emotionally rattling while at the same time joyously rousing. Opener “Nuevo” starts a an elegy about watching the world around you change for the worse, but then realizing even more sadly that you haven’t changed at all. Its soft beginnings burst into a full punk rock outro with an instrumental that carries us into “Sequels, Remakes & Adaptations”. Singer Dylan Slocum’s world view and self view are both on full display, as he asks us “…please don’t judge me for the failure I’m gonna be”, while feeling wronged by the world the made him this way; “If we’ve been promised so much more, how do I get it?”
Things get darker on “Bellyache” and “Buffalo Buffalo”, where Slocum admits to thoughts of suicide (“I know it’s wrong, but I’m thinking about buying a gun”), but finds he so depressed he can’t even go through with it (“I don’t think I could fix this even if I found God”). While “Buffalo” has some memorable dynamics and a chorus dreaming of escape ( even if it’s to a place no one wants to go), the song structuring on Schmaltz is far more similar to “Bellyache” – no real choruses or hooks, but the powerful pop punk riffage and forceful delivery of the lyrics make such an impact that it usually doesn’t matter.
Slocum treats the album like a musical therapy session, wailing out tortured rants to infectious melodies. The groups heavy guitar assault powers each song immensely, but the sturdy drumming and keyboard touches add a breath of variation and beauty to the album when it desperately needs it. The songs here are good, but they tend to blend together if one doesn’t take a break between songs to appreciate the subtle nuances in them.
SLS are likely aware of this, and make attempts to change things up. “Otis/Carl” opens with muted guitar strumming and distant vocals , before bursting into an exuberant melody. With such energetic playing, one might not notice the song is a guilt-ridden lament for failing to see a dying friend due to fear, though Slocum’s vocals overflow with emotion so effectively it’s hard to get too caught up in the buoyancy of the song. “Joanna, In Five Acts” also focuses on loss and the psychological damage it leaves.
Strangely in-between these songs is “El Niño Considers”, where the group keeps in an opening line flub, and keeps chugging along with likely the biggest smile one can hear behind any song on the album. It almost feels as though all the dumping of baggage before this song is finally lightening Slocum’s soul, even as he sings about gaining weight and not being able to find love.
Album closer “Aloha to No One” quiets things down with acoustic guitars, but this only makes the doubt-ridden lyrics all the more sad and painful. Slocum sings “You might wake up, but you’ll never be better”, and thus we sum up the album’s thesis – even if he makes the small strides he hopes to accomplish, there is still so far to go, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope of reaching that brighter end. It’s a singalong for the depressed and hopeless, that manages to end not necessarily on a happy note, but as close to comforting one as Spanish Love Songs can give – “You might be fine, but you’ll never be your best”.
Schmaltz is a powerful and thoughtful album that will likely be cathartic for anyone dealing with any of the many issues its songwriter has, or make anyone who is doing okay in life feel better since they aren’t as bad off as the singer seems to be.