The members of Kansas City's The Life And Times sprung from scattered Midwestern post-rock and emo outfits, but their new project reaches back further, to the dreamy noise of late-'80s bands like Swervedriver. The Life And Times' song "Charlotte St." could practically be a Swervedriver cover, with its tribal drums, gliding guitars, and moany lyrics about "bright blue mornings." Throughout the band's debut LP, Suburban Hymns, lead singer-songwriter-guitarist Allen Epley contrasts his affectless voice with an instrumental maelstrom, all in service of songs like "Muscle Cars" (a hallucination of rusted Americana) and "Thrill Ride" (an evocation of an abandoned carnival). The effect is trippy and violent, yet rolling soundscapes like "Mea Culpa" also describe culture-rot with a kind of stricken, sympathetic awe.
Daphne Loves Derby lies closer to the old-school emo front. The Kent, Washington trio owes much of its underground success—more than two million downloads to date—to the network of blogging high-schoolers that form the spine of the emo scene. And the band's sound is as quintessential as its name, with a booming backbeat, shiny electric guitars, and frequent interjections of acoustic guitar and piano, over which bandleaders Jason Call and Kenny Choi take turns singing about the trials of true love. The band's debut LP, On The Strength Of All Convinced, is full of catchy, rocked-up quasi-ballads like "Sundays" and "Hammers And Hearts," which lean on tight-spiral riffs and memories of good times recently past. As with a lot of emo, the subject matter becomes cumulatively negligible over the course of a full record, but individual tracks work well for listeners either in their teens or willing to project. It's hard to deny the sincere romanticism of a song like "Birthday Gallery," which uses old snapshots to document a love affair, and features the "aww"-inducing line, "I'll stay awake and fret, just for you."