We've been looking forward to the opportunity to deal with an album labelled screamo without having to put quotation marks around it - taking the time to simultaneously mimic the gesture with our hands.
Nor do we have to spend five paragraphs explaining the media and scene-kids misappropriation of the term to label post-hardcore and metalcore bands. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the real deal. We have Funeral Diner, City of Caterpillar and Suis La Lune on the influence list and we're good to go.
Interestingly, the Maryland, U.S-based quintet have put a slight spin on the genre and mashed it up with post-rock, reminiscent of such greats as Envy, Circle Takes the Square, the aforementioned City of Caterpillar and Pyramids. While some have lambasted the band for straying from the template of short, sharp and dirty, they miss the point that screamo was at its best when it explored deeper instrumentation and complex structures. Compare how well Toru Okada's work has held up compared to say Ampere's.
So in essence, what Pianos Become the Teeth excel at, is constructing artfully elegant and resplendent instrumental passages, before decimating them with torturously emotional screamed catharsis. Yet this never devolves into formula a la post-rock. The two elements sometimes mix, are sometimes purposely played against each other. "Pensive" uses frenzied screams of "I'm ready to let my hair down, I'm ready to move to the woods until the floor boards get raspy, I'm ready, I'm ready" to build up the suspense before the catharsis arrives in the form of serene breakdowns adorned with echoing chord strums which throw sporadic light upon a dark passage like a faulty halogen-bulb in an abandoned hospital.
While some of the lyrics lack the restrained genius of some of their contemporaries, there is certainly one example almost guaranteed to instigate a sniffle-alert. "Cripples Can't Shiver" dives headlong into the harrowing ordeal of watching a family member succumb to disease and languishing in their plight. There are no coy observances of the beauty inherent in life if you look hard enough, no references to a master-plan which envelops us all. Just the ugly truth of what lies in front of us: "please don't disappear with the room, please don't give up on going out... the mould promises these sheets stay damp so my lungs wont last but I swear I'd at least break the fingers of the hand that dealt this to you". Delivered with such unrestrained power and feeling, you may as well link you brain to the protagonist and initiate a mind-to-mind fibre-optic transfer, for this is how effective it is in its aims of portraying the horror of the situation.
Final track "Young Fire" - like the Saltwater (their previous album) version of "All Children Make Mistakes" - surrenders the band entirely to post-rock, eschewing lyrics or samples of any kind, instead focusing on the ebb and flow of the instrumentation. Initially, it sounds like it could be a Brand New song before the plodding percussion gathers pace in the mid-section and surges the track into the territory of dense, but simple post-rock. Lacking the sparkle and effervescent quality to make it leap from the page it ends the album on something of a duff note.
Everything before it though, is beyond dispute. Not quite building on the high standard set by their immense album Saltwater, it is still a compelling entry into bona fide screamo which takes the genre to new places.
It looks like American is finally in with a chance of wrestling back the screamo-crown from continental-Europe. Your move, France, Italy and Germany!