American Radass (this is important)

Central Question: Why so serious?

American Radass (this is important)

Daniel Levin Becker
Facebook icon Share via Facebook Twitter icon Share via Twitter

The New Jersey duo Dads self-identify as an emo band, a designation borne out first and foremost in their style of play, a curdled and recumbent guitar noodling punctuated by moments of blustery abandon, rendered in a manner halfway between technical virtuosity and bare-minimum proficiency. From there the pigeonhole gets a little less snug: their lyrics are earnest but seldom melodramatic; at a glance, at least, they evince no particular heartbreak or longing, just an unexpectedly pragmatic kind of emotional wisdom. “When you’re this young and so excited,” one song yawps, “you won’t remember to set any goals.” Another wonders,  “[If] we can pick out our faults enough to blame our parents, / why can’t we blame ourselves?”

The fit gets looser still. The title of Dads’ second LP, American Radass (this is important), would appear to lampoon the congenitally overblown stakes of emo discourse (as well as the Kid Rock song “American Badass”), and the names of the songs on it follow suit: the first is called “If Your Song Title Has the Word ‘Beach’ in It, I’m Not Listening to It,” the second “Get to the Beach!” The finest track, a seven-minute elegy to estrangement, is called “Shit Twins.” It is followed by a song—the one from which the quote above about setting goals is taken—that was written, according to guitarist Scott Scharinger, because “we wanted a song that was sixty-nine seconds long.”

Judging by the small handful of online materials that take up the question, Scharinger and rhythm section John Bradley maintain consistently that this sort of silliness is organic, happenstance, chuckle-shrug-guess-you-had-to-be-there. One title, they explain, is “a mix of a lot of drunken things we’ve heard or said”; another (“Shit Twins,” in fact) was named by an acquaintance “when he was talking about us and said it as a joking song title, which we ended up later using for this song.” The evident takeaway is that Dads don’t take themselves all that seriously, or at least that they don’t give any strenuous thought to how seriously they want to be taken. Even the name “Dads” is summarily disowned in the FAQ on their website wearentdads.com: “Dumb joke, dumb name. Means nothing.”

Why take their word for it, though? Taking yourself seriously is the closest thing this style of music has to a universal prerogative; emo songs are supposed to have names like “This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know)” or “Walking at Night, Alone.” They’re supposed to be heavy and humorless and, to borrow a phrase from the Promise Ring, one of Dads’ most perceptible musical influences, very emergency. This is important, as it were, because it’s emblematic of how emo works on the whole, how it deploys catharsis and confrontation right where a balanced sense of emotional perspective would normally go. (The reason it’s virtually unheard-of for an emo band to age coherently is that emo is so deeply rooted in the exact same lack of clarity and equilibrium that constitutes adolescence.) 

But Dads work the other way around: they couch their maturity in childishness. Whatever urgency of feeling there is in each song is so internal to it, so much its nucleus, that by the time it’s been conceived and gestated and finally christened it just doesn’t seem very urgent anymore. American Radass’s most political song is an earnest plea to stop casual intolerance in the East Coast punk scene—“Think past your friends, how far each word can go”—and it’s called “Aww, C’mon Guyz.” This is manifestly not the work of teenagers playacting like adults; this is the work of adults, more or less, speaking truthfully about their experience of the world but also embracing their own lingering puerility because, shit, there are worse things in life. 

That there are worse things in life is, of course, a quietly heretical concept to emo subculture, but it’s also a lesson that seems handy for both emo and the corollary notion that growing up has to mean putting away childish things altogether. We can complicate them, too, find legitimacy in them from the inside out, make room for them in our lives without losing the bigger picture. Dads suggest a way to do just that, thus blurring the line ever so slightly between the archetypal emo pantywaist and the well-adjusted member of society, the overwrought bloodletter and the contemporary poet or the curator of a really successful Twitter feed. One song begins:

One day you’ll be married
and you won’t have to feel
dirty purchasing pregnancy tests from
convenience stores with your best friend.
Oh, I was your best friend once,
walking down the aisles, picking out baby names.

Which is the kind of wisdom that’s within reach only when you’re not responsible for dispensing wisdom to anyone besides yourself—when you’re not fully exempt from feeling dirty for buying pregnancy tests, or from feeling bad when a friendship shifts out of your favor, but are beginning to learn how to reconcile the past and the future in the same thought. Coming from anyone else, the same sentiment might not scan as any more or less true, but then it also wouldn’t get to be in a song called “Groin Twerk.”

Title of previous Dads album: Brush Your Teeth, Again ;); Representative lyrics from previous Dads album: “What’s the right age to love? / ’Cause I’ve always either been too old or too young”; Representative song title from previous Dads album: “I Don’t Wanna Fuck with Another Dude’s Snacks”; Band whose combined musical and nomenclatorial sensibilities are most apparent on American Radass: Minus the Bear; Representative Minus the Bear song title: “Lemurs, Man, Lemurs”; Representative because unintentionally trenchant lines from American Radass: “No one’s laughing here. / Open your mind and open your ears.”

More Reads

The Pickwick Papers

Adam Colman

But Our Princess Is In Another Castle

Stephanie Burt

Scary, No Scary

Annie Julia Wyman