Very few emo revival albums, like Bad Heaven Ltd.’s strength, feature hopeful endings.
Over the course of these 11 new tracks from the emo supergroup (made up of members from Snowing, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and Amanda X), lead singer John Galm frankly discusses mental health issues, financial collapse, the housing crisis and genuine feelings of loneliness over a mix of blown-out walls of guitar fuzz and slow, brooding soundscapes. At one point, he sings about only wanting to stay in bed.
But in the waning seconds of album closer “forever,” the unthinkable happens—Galm, formerly of Snowing, expresses some unfettered hope—and tepid happiness—perhaps the result of peeling back layer after layer of his personal despair and finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. “I just hope that you’re in my life forever / I think every lucky star that you were born / Maybe later we can walk down by the water / Share a smoke and watch the current ramble on,” Gant sings in a near-whisper over a simply strummed acoustic guitar and some fluttering strings. Maybe things aren’t all terrible.
It takes Galm & co. a long time to get here. They first lead us through tales of horrifying living conditions (“100”), empty bank accounts (“new boy”) and depression (“bed”) as heavy feedback weaves in and out of the melancholic backdrops. Similar to how British cult act Happyness navigated the quiet/loud dynamic on their 2015 debut, Weird Little Birthday, Bad Heaven Ltd. know exactly when and how to twist the volume knobs up or down throughout their sophomore album to further punctuate Galm’s lyrics. When he sings “hide in public like we’re too well known” on “gold,” the guitars threaten to drown him out completely, while Galm’s falsetto is nearly alone on album opener, “inp,” when he’s waiting outside a friend or lover’s window, begging for another chance to smooth things over. The Philadelphia-based band’s ability to seamlessly vacillate between Dinosaur Jr.-esque guitars and The Antlers-style delicateness is strength’s greatest strength.
That force is best illustrated by second single, “100,” the wordiest and most descriptive song on the record by a stretch. Hushed fingerpicked guitars accompany Galm as he details a regular day for the song’s narrator (perhaps himself): “Out of medication taking yours on loan / Bought a couple dollar cans on my walk home / Drank them on the sofa in the dark alone / It’s 100 lonely hours with some more to go.” But as the song reaches a fever pitch lyrically with the anthemic refrain, “fuck your landlord, it’s not their home,” so too does the backing arrangement as repetitive strums and peppy drums follow along.
Despite its less-than 30-minute runtime (and featuring only four songs over three minutes long), the record leaves quite the impression. Though strength’s length may be more akin to an EP, its 11 songs pack quite a lot in, finding time for grand crescendos and virtuosic string arrangements of the Sparklehorse or American Football vein.
Through all of the darkness and mental instability that he depicts throughout strength, it’s easy to find yourself rooting for Galm to find the friendship and community that’s long eluded him. This makes the record’s gorgeous finale all the more satisfying, an unlikely happy ending that didn’t seem possible even a song or two prior. It’s not a fairy tale finish by any means—it’s easy to envision the closing seconds of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind here instead—but it’s one that leaves the listener with hope, the feeling that maybe some good can come from our seemingly soul-crushing problems.