EP Review: Saint Judas – ‘a terrible year’

Posted: by The Editor

Although Saint Judas hails from the south, there’s a notably cold, northern feel to the tracks on a terrible year. Like one of the many Robert Frost poems about walking through empty, snow-covered streets at night, there’s a feeling of isolation and reflection to these songs that seems to fit best in a bleak winter setting. Made up mainly of Braden Wahl’s vocals and acoustic strumming with barebones percussion and the occasional accompaniment from horns, electric guitars, and airy keys, the EP is a captivating examination of the darker thoughts scratching around the layers of the subconscious that most people would generally rather ignore.

EP opener “b i g / / r i p” kicks thing off as the most upbeat of any of the tracks musically, while the lyrics like “my life is an ocean of mistakes that can no longer be ignored / shove my head below the surface til I’m not breathing anymore” point to the album’s more despondent themes—even as lively “whoa-ohs” follow Wahl’s sentiments. The chorus of “guess I deserve what I got coming to me / are you lonely like me?” is as catchy as it is emo, reminiscent of the best of the early 2000s acoustic music from the genre.

“bioluminescent blood ritual” is an airy track that feels like the lonely drive Wahl narrates in the first verse. Leaving out the drums and dropping the tempo at the start creates a nice contrast with “b i g / / r i p,” immediately pulling you in. The tune floats along until the band kicks in with the chorus of “nine times out of ten / I’m feeling overwhelmed / it’s what I do / it’s a pain to breathe / but the night is lovely.” The repetition of the line “under the moon” functions as a musical turning point and adds to the sitting-up-late-alone vibes that permeate the track, while the straightforward delivery of the final lines “on a good day I get up and go outside / feel the sun against my skin / find a patch of grass to sit / and think of all the things I cannot change / like the color of the leaves or anything” leaves its mark as the song drops out.

“*spooky ghost noises*” works as an eerie stream-of-conscious track bridging the two halves of the record. The loping acoustic pattern keeps things drifting along to the final line of “it’s the little things I can’t escape.” It leads into “like turning off the TV,” along with “b i g / / r i p,” one of the more musically energetic moments. It’s also both the most lyrically dense and lyrically strong tune on the EP. Lines like “I’ll be pulling my teeth out my mouth / it’s fucking freezing out here in the cold” and “you have a tattoo on your wrist / I haven’t felt a thing in months” get your attention immediately on first listen, but “everybody grab a drink / and gather round the kitchen sink / we talk about dying / and how that might feel” might most perfectly express the mood of the EP. With the addition of horns, it’s the most ambitious track in the collection and it succeeds in hitting those heights.

The EP closes on the appropriately somber “involuntary hospitalization.” A haunting fingerpicked guitar leads the track over desolate lyrics like “just smash your guitar and move to the countryside or fall off the earth” and “can we just forget this terrible year?” It ends on a riff with Wahl slowly dropping out different elements until the final note is muted and you can hear the guitar being put aside.

There are surely more appropriate early 2000s acoustic-based emo records to compare a terrible year to, but the one that keeps coming to mind is Matt Skiba’s half of his split with Kevin Seconds. The songs are driven by dark, raw emotion that the artists don’t bother to filter and a lofi sound, but are also layered with interesting musical ideas and are catchy enough to avoid getting too morose. Either way, it’s a fantastic EP and a great listen for winter hibernation.

There is a limited run of tapes up through Sleepy Clown Records.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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