Review: Altar Boy – S/T

Pittsburgh label Crafted Sounds recently Tweeted out the following in response to a request to drink PBR with members of Altar Boy, a group of post-something Pittsburghers releasing their debut EP Friday on said label:

“Altar Boy does not have a Twitter but they got a tighttttt EP coming out.”

Tighttttt? Now, that’s an understatement.

The new four-song EP, available on cassette and digital formats, is not so much tightly wound as it carefully put together – and put together well. It’s a gushing thing of beauty, a collection of glassy numbers that toe the line between the swaying emo of early Sunny Day Real Estate and the minimalist post-rock of Seam. Matt Very of Tight Recordings tenderly works the faders here, doing the material justice by letting clutter fall to the bottom of the sea like so much flotsam and jetsam. And the band is in fine form, the underhanded catchiness and casualness of the tunes belying the work that must have been put into gluing the pieces together.

The finest moment of the record is no doubt its third song, “Silver Lake,” which starts with poppy abandon but flashes Slintish ambitions, punctuating its three — THREE! – interlaced guitar drippings with lines from singer/guitarist Jake Doerr like “And if you think that’s alright/ I think I’m gonna stay here tonight … all I know is I’ve been worse/So have you.” But that says nothing of the rest of the record, which is, by far, not registered in the slack department. (The closer, a moody lull dubbed “Winter Swell,” will tap your heart.) Altar Boy, true to its name, has a sense of seriousness about itself and its mission, but it’s also careful not to linger past the line dividing the somber from the melodramatic. Yes, this is weepy music but it’s no caricature.

It’s easy to be sucked into Doerr’s role as the moody front-man but the whole quintet – Doerr is joined by guitarists Mark Dietrich and Ricky Petticord, bassist Nick Seyler, and drummer Jon Oncken – is pretty damn adept at delivering the goods. Descended from area groups like Rchrd Prkr, Verrason and Strong Hand – this is an even more nuanced gesture than Strong Hands’ excellent Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts – Altar Boy, for sure, might wear its emotive, post-hardcore allegiances on its sleeve. If they keep producing music like this, brother, you can count me in. – Justin Vellucci, Punksburgh, March 15, 2018

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