Till death do they pop
Stream Love Notes/Letter Bombs in its entirety here.
Rock musicians lose their edge once they settle down and get married, goes the old adage. Whether that’s a statistically viable generalization or just a convenient explanation for an artist mellowing with age is still debatable, but the Submarines are doing their best to dispel that myth: The LA-via-Boston husband-wife duo make witty, conflicted nuptial pop about the tribulations and rewards of marriage and commitment, with each album more conflicted and more insightful than the last. In fact, John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard had dated and split before they even formed the band. Recording each other’s break-up songs had a therapeutic effect, and they eventually reconciled and released their debut, Declare a New State!, in 2006.
Love Notes / Letter Bombs continues that chronicle of Dragonetti and Hazard’s relationship, and because of their lyrical candidness and percolating pop production, the subject matter has only grown more compelling. They studiously avoid even the hint of sentimentality and instead embrace devastating observations and lump-in-throat humor, which give them more heft and gravity than likeminded duos such as Mates of State and the defunct Georgie James. For this album, the couple worked with Spoon’s Jim Eno to track live drum parts, which form a strong foundation for these songs. This is the most organic their synth-heavy pop has sounded, with a greater depth and dynamism on “A Satellite, Stars and An Ocean Behind You” and first single “Birds.”
If Love Notes is their best album, it’s because it’s also their most emotionally conflicted. As usual, Hazard sings lead on most of these songs, and where other singers might milk these lyrics for every bit of emotionalism, her bright vocals and breathy phrasing prove cooler and almost matter-of-fact, as if these are matters of the head more than of the heart. As songwriters, she and Dragonetti are incisive enough that these sure songs never come across as one-sided. There’s real tragedy here, but also undeniable happiness: “Maybe I can never be everything you’ll ever need,” she sings on the propulsive “Tigers,” “but I can wrap my arms around you.” And that’s the Submarines’ secret appeal: They specialize in the sneaky juxtaposition of dark thoughts over bright hooks. Rarely does postmillennial pop music sound so energetic and balanced in its contradictions.