IF I WERE TASKED with convincing a person to listen to Standards, the new record from Chicago’s Into It. Over It., I’d pick its fourth track, “Vis Major”, as my entry point (the album’s lead single is “No EQ”, so what the hell do I know?). It’s the record’s most straightforward song, the most easily quantified. Its beats will be recognizable to anyone with a passing familiarity to the emo music of the last decade; call-and-response vocals, crashing drums that drive the song, dynamic finger-tap guitars, detailed but non-specific lyrics delivered with sensitivity, held a little longer than they naturally would be. It is a textbook example of what emo sounds like in 2016.
Here’s the thing about that though. Standards spends the majority of its time actively trying to push “the textbook example of what emo sounds like in 2016” to different places. In an era where bands are still making their bones on the Kinesella-indebted blueprints that luminaries like Capn’ Jazz and American Football have left for a thirsty nation of sensitive people, Into It. Over It. has released an album that actively tries to move past, or at least evolve, that template.
A lot has been made in the lead up to Standards about how rustic its creation was. Legend tells that Evan Weiss, who is the central and nearly-sole member of Into It. Over It., moved himself into a remote Vermont cabin to write the album (drummer Josh Sparks was there, too). The record was recorded with John Vanderslice, who records direct to tape and doesn’t use Pro Tools. That backwards-looking mentality holds in song composition as well; nearly all of the album’s tracks have touchstones to rock’s past. There are drum patterns straight from DC-hardcore “Adult Contempt” and “Vis Major”, stabbing staccato guitars that harken back to 70s prog-rock on “Required Reading”, and warm acoustic guitar tones that are more regularly found in 90s singer-songwriter coffee house records popping up on “Who You Are ≠ Where You Are” and “Old Lace & Ivory.” At every available turn, the record seems to reject decisions that would bring it in line with genre conventions in favor of experimentation, almost as circumvention of the original punk ideal of less being more. These are songs that contain more.
Calling it “experimental” might make Standards sound more difficult than it actually is. Even the record’s most freewheeling tracks are still grounded by twinkly guitars and clear, dramatic vocals. Three albums in, Weiss continues to have a way with words. The album opener, “Open Casket”, is an exercise of self-indictment by way of torching an entire group of friends (“Hungover and divorced, they torch their twenties like it’s kerosene … And then there’s me as always, just a mess”). Later in the album, “Adult Contempt” hits all the genre bona fides in terms of lyrical drama with an intelligence that most emo bands would kill for (“Twist my arm just to twist the knife ... Saw your common goals lack a common sense … Blood as ink just prints as privilege”). Sure, it’s all delivered with an earnestness that can be off-putting for outsiders, but no one is better at this kind of prose than Weiss.
There are a few different ways to read what’s happening on Standards. One the one hand, it’s easy to imagine someone finding it too dense, wishing that the keyboard melodies and bits of drone were ironed out to make room for those jumpy guitars, to make more room for larger, more textured vocals; to, in short, sound a little less like an experiment and little more familiar. That’s a valid read, to be sure, but the one that’s more compelling from where I’m sitting is the idea that Into It. Over It. are trying to highlight where we’ve been while looking for a way forward. Time will tell if this record is a blueprint for a new way or something significantly less. For now, it remains one of the most compelling genre albums of the early year. B