Album of the Day: So Stressed, “Please Let Me Know”

One of the larger tensions that exists between artists and critics is the latter’s insistence on taking the work of the former to be strict autobiography, but the pain that courses through the third album from Sacramento’s So Stressed feels too immediate and too visceral to be a work of fiction. Its 10 songs seem to document a grueling breakup, but what makes the record so rattling is that all of the resulting agony is focused inward. Where 2015’s The Unlawful Trade of Greco-Roman Art was stacked with bruising hardcore, Please Let Me Know is both paradoxically more measured and more tortured. Opener “Fur Sale” sails out on a sleek sheet of melodic guitars, and frontman Morgan Fox isn’t screaming but singing. But about two minutes in, the turbulence hits: “Nothing compares to you,” Fox sings, “But I still compare everything to you.” From there it’s a quick dive into dissonance; the guitars turn pitch black and Morgan doubles over howling.

The rest of the record volleys between those two poles, post-hardcore melodicism trading off with proper-hardcore panic attacks. “Majestic Face” manages both at once, eerie vocal harmonies gliding across heart-attack double-bass drumming. In “Old Hiss,” Fox runs into his old flame in public, which sends him into a spiral of despair: “We’ll grow old together,” he wails as the band pitches and rolls behind him, “Right up until I wake up.” Even when the band stretches out musically, the results are shot through with unease. The sparse “Peach,” is built on a skeletal strum and lit up with squiggles of synthesizer that sound like an MRI machine melting down. And while the band’s ventures into melodicism demonstrate impressive breadth, it’s the full-throated ragers that land the hardest. The panicked “Subsequent Rips” opens with Fox declaring “I write myself a heartfelt love letter/ and read it into the mirror,” against chaotic corkscrews of guitar; both elements are operating in their own time signature: Fox plows forward regardless of meter; the band hammers away chaotically, like they’re falling down a flight of stairs. Please Let Me Know trepans down into the center of heartbreak and records all of the mayhem it finds there. It may not be autobiography, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real.

J. Edward Keyes

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