Mixtape Review: Origami Angel – ‘The Brightest Days’

Posted: by The Editor

photo by Lindsy Carrasquillo

It feels somewhat counterintuitive (no label-related pun intended) to talk about a new Origami Angel record in relation to the idea of a band “coming into their own” or “fully realizing their sound.” They’ve already released one of the best emo records of the nascent century with Somewhere City—a debut full-length that struck a perfect balance between the group’s ability to shred with their knack for writing hooky tunes that don’t shy away from the quirky or unconventional. If anything, it was a “fully realized” debut, but the few years since then have seen Origami Angel stretching their sound out in different directions (see the expansive GAMI GANG), largely shying away from the comforting, “you’re the goddamn king of the universe,” anxiety-blanket emo that saturated Somewhere City and opting for heavier, grimier aesthetics (particularly on last year’s hardcore DEPART, although it was paired with the sunny acoustic re: turn to soften the blow). On their new mixtape, The Brightest Days, it feels like every thread they’ve been tugging at since Somewhere City has been pulled taut, creating a beautiful, iridescent web—the strongest and clearest incarnation of Gami’s gloriously wacky vision yet.

Part of what makes Origami Angel’s style of riff-heavy emo work so well is the way they don’t let the shredding get in the way of the actual songs. They’re not a band that you listen to because they shred, as much as they’re a band that writes great songs that also happen to be filled with some of the sickest riffs and most jaw-dropping drum work you’ve ever heard—technically impressive, but also only there in the service of the song and done with impeccable taste. It works to make Gami a band that’s almost impossible to play as background music, as you’ll inevitably stop to gawk at song-stopping moments like the cascading riff that contrasts the heavier runs on the “The Brightest Days,” the pair of drum hits that pull “Second Best Friend” back from its acoustic diversion, or the oh-so-effortless turn from Ryland Heagy to light the fuse on the goofy surf-rock rager punctuated with heavy breakdowns that is “Thank You, New Jersey.” The Brightest Days is also probably the strongest Heagy has sounded vocally yet, particularly in the tangible emotion behind the final “oh god when I find you” on the title track, the tongue-twister bridge of “My PG County Summer,” and the delivery of “and I still say I love it here, behind clenched teeth and constant fear” under a spiraling carnival synth on the stunning closer “Few and Far Between.”

After the electrifying and somewhat surprising opening tracks, the bouncy, intricate “Picture Frame” brings The Brightest Days back to more familiar territory for Origami Angel, but it’s “Kobayashi Maru (My Very Own)” and “Second Best Friend” where it really starts dawning on you that Gami might have done something special here. Heagy’s tight palm-muted playing stands out over the whole record, but it reaches a new level of frenzied intensity on “Kobayashi Maru (My Very Own),” with his mouth moving as quickly as his wrist as he rips through “tell me how I’m gonna be jealous of an Energizer battery / actually adding to humanity / maybe by the count of three somebody could count on me / to be someone who hasn’t been deprived of any sanity.” The musical turn just before a minute into the track is surely the most unexpected one on the record and leaves room to showcase the lyrical break at “they tell you tell yourself that you’re important / they tell you tell yourself the honest truth / that feels so paradoxical and stupid / my very own Kobayashi Maru.”

“Second Best Friend” finds Origami Angel at their poppiest on the record, with a direct chorus of “I always wanted more” and riffs that focus more on melody than mind bending. It’s followed by the second ukulele-based track in “Looking Out,” and goddamnit if Heagy doesn’t make the uke sound downright badass in the way he leans into the turnaround before “but I’ll keep looking out for you / as long as you’d expect me to / with one eye glued to the road / and the other trying to find some drive.”

The uke and lapping waves of “Looking Out” give way to some feedback followed by an explosion of noise, and we’re out of the sunny daydream beach life and thrown specifically into Washington D. C. for the final pair of tunes. On Somewhere City, the eponymous city was a mystical, magical place, existing “in your brain” as somewhere that will never let you down, where you can be “someone that you don’t have to hide.” On The Brightest Days, that spiritual city is paralleled by the mundane Washington D. C.—a twisted, ugly “modern day Faraday cage” where “each four years the new regimes release their worker bees” and “run it straight into the ground;” a place that gets invaded every summer by anti-choice protesters who “travel to be hateful.” 

This is Origami Angel, though—a band who’s music ultimately feels made to raise you out of those murky depths—and they’re not going to let those hateful fucks win. Somewhere City offered an escape from reality, but The Brightest Days seems like a conscious effort to construct your own reality, not letting others impose theirs onto you. “My PG County Summer” isn’t a complaint as much of a reclamation of their hometown from the tourists that show up with “hate in their heart,” as synths blare through the tune, pairing well with the criminally catchy chorus. It leads right into “Few and Far Between,” also set in the capital, where “the only nice day comes in May,” and “what you say, it’s lost inside a storm of propaganda.” The longest track here, it feels like the point the entire record has been leading up to, and when Gami flips to a double-time run after the final chorus, it’s clear that, despite the rainy lyrics, this is an exuberant and celebratory moment of apotheosis—a precise and spellbinding purge, using a barrage of riffs and brutal drumming to exorcise all of the evil oozing out of D. C.

Music isn’t a competition in a cutthroat sense, and comparing different emo records is somewhat pointless when, sonically, emo can be a lot of things these days (the Home Is Where record out this week is both fantastic and not remotely comparable to The Brightest Days in sound even though they both fall under the larger umbrella of “emo”). But, there is a feeling of the gauntlet being thrown down on The Brightest Days, with Gami pulling off a record that is technically brilliant while also stylistically out there and so uniquely and innately them. It’s not a “we’re the best, fuck you” record as much as it’s a call to other emo bands to not be afraid to get a little wacky with it, almost as if Origami Angel just kicked off a dunk contest with a perfect round, revealing moves you didn’t know they had in their arsenal and immediately inspiring everyone else to up their game.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great Phenomenal

The Brightest Days is out Friday 6/16 with vinyl available through Counter Intuitive Records.

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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