Subtle share ‘Borderline” EP in advance of Flourish Festival performance.
Drew Sweet is really something. He’s a guy who wears his love of early 2000s emo/post-hardcore on his sleeve. It’s a genre you don’t hear a lot of people leaning into these days. Drew loves American Football. Drew loves Braid. Drew loves when a vocal strains just past the breaking point. Drew loves a build. It’ll become clear here in a minute that I also love these things.
I remember this period really well because it’s right around the time I was learning to play guitar. There was a lot of chugging but also a lot of open, clean, arpeggios. Everyone played in drop D because it was uniformly better for chugging. I would have conversations with friends about bands that were “heavy but melodic” which now I just assume is someone trying to sell me on why I should like MUSE (I don’t really like MUSE). But, inevitably, I also loved this music because I was like 20 years old and I had a lot of feelings and things like rainy days really made me feel close to guitars that strained the same way vocals would. Not quite yelling. Worked up. And there were meatheads listening to bullshit I hated. I listened to the songs about feelings. Fuck Top 40 (lol who even talks about Top 40 [googles if Rick Dees is still alive] I bet Rick Dees feels a million years old). Fuck you, I dunno, maybe Nelly, I guess (no beef with Nelly, I’m sure he’s nice).
Borderline is a new EP that Drew (formerly of Saint John’s Hand Drawn and also currently of Butcher) has released under the name Subtle. It’s his second record that he has written, arranged, and performed entirely by himself because he is ambitious. He’s also precise. Nothing in these four tracks seems out of place. Nothing in these four tracks seems unintentional. And, while these songs are a little bit of a trip down memory lane for me, they’re also fresh. They don’t have the same heft of what has been coming out of Saint John lately. Vocals are up front. Guitars are crisp. The space is nice (I should mention it was recorded by my favourite grump, Corey Bonnie).
There’s a churn to these songs that sometimes feels like I am listening to an emo Yo La Tengo. We maybe don’t know each other but that’s more or less my ideal sound. A steady beat. A groove. A seemingly out-of-place insane guitar solo thing. Some long-expressed vocals with probably a little melancholy. I’m not super into melancholy these days but fitting it in felt very familiar and safe and beautiful. I got flashes of Ozma and lesser-known Weezer b-sides. I got little hints of Saves the Day or maybe even a little Dashboard. But I also got these things without the poppy affectations of the Blink 182 era. There are no pop-punk half-time breakdowns (even though, if we’re being honest, I love those). The biggest guitars don’t pop; they heave. They pull. The sounds are familiar but also new… sort of like how the smell of your house changes when you move into a new apartment and your furniture mingles with a different space.
Related: ‘Procrastinator’ is the first in a series of solo recordings by Saint John musician Drew Sweet.
I’m hesitant to recommend this record just because it is an intense and pleasant piece of Nostalgia written by a guy who is roughly the age I was when emo was superhuge. I recommend this record because it’s a great EP in it’s own right. It’s a great EP for now. I think Drew is a great songwriter (I have always really liked Drew’s songs, for the record). I think it’s the perfect length for a commute where maybe you are taking the bus somewhere and it’s foggy out (ha ha, I got you Saint John) and you have some emotional weight in your pockets and the distance to everything seems unreasonable or unfair.
I think it’s a record that does a lot of things I already knew I liked, but hadn’t quite heard in this configuration. It reminds me that sometimes it’s fun to mope. Moping (not to be confused with mopping) feels good. Thanks, Drew.
You can see Drew performing with a full band at Flourish this Friday night at the Capital if that’s a thing you want to do. Go say hi to him and tell him he did a great job. He’s a little awkward, heads up.