Midwestern Emo, with the pioneering work of bands like American Football, Cap n’ Jazz and The Get Up Kids in the mid-90s and its recent resurgence under bands like The Hotelier, The World is a Beautiful Place and Into it. Over it., has proved itself as a key, generational niche in the Emo Revival. Barely Civil, hailing from Wisconsin, announced themselves as a promising compatriot of the community with their 2018 debut We Can Live Here Forever. That release, as with this, their sophomore effort, sounds familiar. Present and correct are all that one would expect from the sub-genre: the chanted choruses; the twangy guitars; the arpeggiated melodies – Barely Civil sound like their elders.
Derivative though they may be, the band sound tight beyond their years: they know what, or who, they want to sound like and they do it competently and with conviction. On I’ll Figure this Out, the band finds themselves pondering personal growth and better futures with their typical introspection and emotional honesty. The album has a post-rockish propensity for the quiet/loud melody: Graves Avenue contrasts frontman Conor Erickson’s subdued vocals against a chugging guitars and thrashing drums; North Newhall follows suit, punctuating twanging guitars with sporadic blast beats. It’s nothing new, in fact, it’s what American Football and The World is a Beautiful Place built their respective careers on, and one can see it coming a mile off here.
There are some definite highlights: Box for my Organs combines sonic bombasity and emotional vulnerability to soul-stirring effect and The Worst Part of December offers an astute and sobering meditation on the waning of one’s twenties. These highlights, however, are too few and far between to really alleviate the album to anything more than a competently realised imitation of its influences.
Barely Civil need to have some confidence in their abilities, they’re an incredibly tight outfit and they do what they do with impressive prowess. One can’t help but feel that the band’s desire to emulate their forefathers have stopped them from realising their potential.