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The Get Up Kids - Problems (Album Review)

Tuesday, 14 May 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Shawn Brackbill

Certain records are millstones. They inspire such love in people that, eventually, it becomes weaponised as the law of diminishing returns takes over, or a band decide that they don’t want to retrace their steps.

The Get Up Kids’ 1999 second album ‘Something to Write Home About’ is such a millstone. It blew up, becoming a seminal emo text, but gradually the band left its ringing power chords and bleeding heart behind. Still, many fans wanted to see their sad clowns keep dancing forever.

Looking back over their discography, as well as side projects like Matt Pryor’s the New Amsterdams and James Dewees’ Reggie and the Full Effect, it’s little wonder that ‘Something to Write Home About’ has been a sore subject.

There’s so much in the Get Up Kids’ locker aside from that record—some superb slacker indie, genuinely weird synths, washed out anti-love songs—but it’s also true that things haven’t cohered in such a satisfying way since. Until now, perhaps.

‘Problems’ isn’t ‘Something to Write Home About’ part two, and neither will it have anything close to that LP’s seismic impact given the fractured nature of music consumption in 2019. But it is an exemplary record by the Get Up Kids in full flight, pulling together elements of their existing work in a balanced, enticing manner.

As on last year’s ‘Kicker’ EP, it feels like they’ve figured out how to function by acknowledging that their past will always have a say in their present. Its wisdom is hard-earned—on its second song Pryor yowls “Could it be, maybe the problem is me?” and holy hell we feel his pain—and its compositional choices are similarly battle-tested. Most of these sounds have been heard before on Get Up Kids albums, but rarely have they been so bullishly deployed—this has the confidence that 2004's ‘Guilt Show’ might have in an ideal world.

The opening bars of Satellite find Pryor’s voice wracked over a busted up acoustic: “By myself, I don't think anybody else even cares if all is well.” Moments later we’re thrust into a giddy release of octave chords and a huge chorus melody. Cynically speaking, it’s Get Up Kids 101. And yet, it’s rich, warm and fun. It’s a band cutting loose because they’re happy to do so.

Elsewhere, producer Peter Katis does a fine job of marshalling the LP’s competing desires. Returning after engineering the hugely divisive ‘On a Wire’, which was produced by noted R.E.M. collaborator Scott Litt, his sophisticated style, honed during work with indie giants like the National, slots in perfectly here.

The LP’s straight-ahead moments are allowed leeway to go for it, the guitars slashing and meshing around Dewees’ keys, while Katis’s appreciation for space lends a shimmering quality to the refined likes of Salina. ‘Problems’ is also expertly paced, unfolding on its own terms with a couple of satisfying twists like the strutting power-pop of Waking Up Alone butting up against the angular The Advocate.

The Get Up Kids are older and wiser, as are those followers who once cried betrayal. ‘Problems’ occupies a middle ground that should satisfy both parties—there is something deeply rewarding about checking in with old friends and finding people who have figured things out among themselves.

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