by Ian O'Shea
[three_fourth]The intensity and dark subject matter surrounding Blis’ debut record No One Loves You may be off-putting on the first listen, but that raw emotion, felt through every power chord and droning vocal, makes this record what it is. The Atlanta-based emo band’s previous EP was slightly more reserved than this record, employing the use of more “twinkly” guitars, reminiscent of something you’d find on an American Football record. But the transition to a heavier punk sound, sprinkled with shoegaze influences, seems to suit them better.
The first song, ‘Dumb’, sets the downtrodden tone of the album with lead singer Aaron Gossett giving insight to his self-deprecation, and disdain towards religion. The anti-religious theme persists throughout the album, as he describes its effect on his childhood and his relationship with the mother of his newborn child, whose face appears on the album artwork. There’s something oddly eerie about the dark nature of this album juxtaposed with the cover art of his newborn baby. But that eeriness makes for an even deeper emotional experience, which I feel is one of the most important aspects of a record.
Following the intro is the first single from this record, ‘Stale Smoke’, which first introduced me to Blis. It focuses on Gossett’s romantic relationship, and the realization that he is now a father. The song builds from almost whispered vocals into a burst of energetic screaming and driving guitars. Even though the song is less than four minutes long, it perfectly summarizes the vocal and instrumental range displayed throughout the album. Gossett’s vocals are consistently high-pitched, but he switches between hushed tones and intense yelling many times throughout the project, which seems to highlight his combination of sadness and anger expressed in the band’s music.
Further exemplifying this duality is the interlude, ‘Servant’, into ‘Old Man’, where Blis shows its shoegaze influences. The band utilizes droning guitars and long-winded vocal performances to produce a calming effect after one of the most intense songs, ‘Take Me Home’. While ‘Take Me Home’ may sound like a fun punk rock track on the surface, the lyrics seem to come from a disturbing past with Gossett’s family. The transitions from each of these three songs to the next connect similar ideas using contrasting sounds, and provide a sense of continuity to the album.
‘Ugly’ sits a couple songs later in the track listing, and is probably the most emotional cut on the album, due to its heavy lyrics and explosive finish that leaves me breathless every time I listen to it. Gossett slowly sings, ‘Peel back my scabs / They were so close to healing and now they’re back’ before the finale of the song, leaving the listener feeling vulnerable and somewhat creeped out. The band even uses recordings of Gossett’s infant child in the background of this track, once again contributing to the eerie tone of the record. Following this, the screeching vocals and intense instrumentation round out the track in an emotional catharsis reminiscent of Brand New on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. Of course the best way to experience an album is to listen to it yourself, and to fully appreciate this record, I’d recommend taking a look at the lyrics as you listen.
All that being said, this is not a perfect record. Many of the songs follow similar formulas where the chorus is simply the same word or phrase being repeated, especially in ‘Pathetic’. And despite Gossett’s vocal range, he uses that same whisper-scream contrast in nearly every song on the record. Keep in mind, this is the band’s first full-length album and some kinks may need to be worked out in the future. For some, these flaws might be important factors in an album’s quality, but when listening to music within the emo, punk, and shoegaze genres, I believe the most important aspect is the emotional impact, and Blis produced an incredibly emotional album that is both interesting and catchy enough for some good old-fashioned head-banging.