If Dashboard Confessional has put a face to mainstream emo, Pretty Girls Make Graves are most assuredly the new poster children of the underground punk movement. That certainly isn't to say that they're on the verge of selling out, going corporate or any of that schlock, but with an ever-growing fanbase, cross-gender appeal and a move to major-indie Matador, their star is clearly on the rise.
A rickety electric piano opens The New Romance, a simple tacet slowly melding into a flurry of chiming guitar and a slow-burning percussive uprising that erupts into a glorious cacophony, as unerringly tuneful as it is propulsively vicious. Clearly, this isn't your older brother's punk rock. The group's new aesthetic is marked out on album bookends "Something Bigger, Something Brighter" and "A Certain Cemetery"; these are neither wimpy pop songs nor iron-fisted punk songs, but a shimmying amalgamation of DIY attitude and velvety songcraft, not altogether dissimilar to Learning to Crawl-era Pretenders.
The blinding aggression that marked PGMG's earliest output has given way to a shimmering complacency that would kill a lesser act. in the capable hands of Andrea Zollo and her band, this contentment has blossomed into an album bursting at the seams with delirious fervor and unmitigated electricity. There's still a fire in their hearts, but they've figured out how to channel their energy into razor-sharp blasts of molten melody. "All Medicated Geniuses" and "This is Our Emergency" are urgent without being contrived, staccato guitars and strangulating basslines sunk deep within their gummy vocal hooks. "The Grandmother Wolf" and "Blue Lights" are bona fide pop hits in waiting, while the raucous "Chemical, Chemical" is a mascara-stained ode to the joys of elemental love, and the oscillating title track is borderline MOR, all sticky keyboards and decompressed vocals.
It will be interesting to observe how the fickle audience that has propelled PGMG to the heights of indiedom reacts to The New Romance. Chances are good that the group's move away from traditional punk ideals (i.e.: roughed up sound and ratty clothes) toward a more pop-oriented approach will lose them as many fans as they win. Fair enough; anyone who was expecting Pretty Girls Make Graves to record Good Health Pt. 2 has another think coming.