By Phillip Morgan
Find the guitars of Cloud Nothings and Gold-Bears too clean? Long for the days when indie rock had the tonal smoothness of TV static? Pope, a lo-fi emo/punk trio from New Orleans, LA, have you covered with their debut LP Fiction. Released on March 10 through NOLA-based indie label Community Records, Pope come across as more refreshing than groundbreaking on this record. They never stray too far from the dirty, buzzsaw melodies and subdued melancholic vocals pioneered by Dinosaur Jr. and their ilk, but what they lack in innovation they more than make up for in execution.
Given Fiction’s dirty production, it’s quite shocking how much of Pope’s music stresses clarity over aggression. Even when Alex Skalany has the guitar on full fuzz, the melody is always present, the muddy atmosphere working alongside it rather than submerging it (similar to what Cloud Nothings did last year on Here and Nowhere Else). Not only does it give new urgency to otherwise dull, grungy guitars, but their transparent approach to lo-fi also allows the rhythm section much more room to breathe. Amidst the wall of fuzz, Matt Seferian’s subtle bass counter-melodies bear a distinct, but never overbearing presence. Meanwhile, though Atticus Lopez’s drumming is pretty restrained, it provides a fun, simplistic energy that helps keep Fiction from droning on too long.
If you crave the pained expressionist vocals of current emo/punk acts like Citizen or Iron Chic, you’ll likely find Seferian and Skalany’s shared vocal style an odd choice. Split between Skalany’s low, ghostly drone and Seferian’s soft croon, the overall tone of Fiction resembles a calmer, detached form of melancholy that often accompanies somber acceptance. There are implications that it stems from awareness that their predicaments are their own fault, such as in “Animal” where Skalany opens with the admission, “In my life I was kept waiting / No two of the same mistakes / Went without warning,” or in “Let Down” when he addresses a former loved one with, “I’ve played the game of faking truths / I’ve let you take the breath from me.”
Seferian proves slightly more nostalgic on his songs, especially on “Bug” with lines like, “If I could bind my eyes to your spine / Now I’m blind.” But even then he too has the insight that the parting may have been for the best, as noted in “Gearbear” when he says, “The gift you gave to me I never wore / Red started leaking out of my pores.” Lead single “Fast Eddy” closes with the statement, “It seems you’ve seen the spaces in between / The cutting cold of my extremes,” and it’s the closest the entire record ever comes to a thesis statement. These are songs of feelings endured in the fallout, the thoughts that still plague the mind of Skalany and Seferian long after the hard choices are made (or made for them).
Building on the promise displayed on their previous Eps, Fiction is a tremendous first full-length for Pope. For emo/punk fans, especially LoFi enthusiasts, this is another fantastic addition to a growing catalogue of fun indie/punk records from the Deep South in the past few years. With hauntingly catchy tracks and buzzsaw guitar hooks galore, Fiction might just the debut Pope needs to propel themselves to the national stage, and they’ve more than earned such recognition.