There is a fault, at times, with certain perceptions of music criticism, that we are supposed to function in some fashion as some cross between a buyer’s guide and an objective measure of some definable metric of quality within a work. The benefit of something like emo (or, in this case more particularly, screamo and powerviolence) is that its primary function, the modus operandi of the genre in its entirety, is in slicing you open, rendering you a weeping mess. This isn’t to say that other genres aren’t function-oriented as well, but more to say that for whatever reason the function of a great number of genres and their attendant works gets misread by certain types of people, and thus appraising work on the merit of what it’s seeking to do sometimes escapes them or seems, worse, like being toxically positive about a record they didn’t connect with. It’s refreshing to have something so clear in its intent like this. When I say this rendered me a sobbing mess and played a part in one of the hardest months of the past few years of my life, I feel confident that people who know this genre and its modality will read that as the positive aspect that I mean.
The material here sticks to a throat-shredding howl, often peaking and clipping in a way that thankfully reminds more of the fucked up sound mixing of basement shows than brickwalled rock records. Loma Prieta are no strangers to occasionally letting rip something closer to grind or avant-garde in its frantic energy but here sit closer to a melodic approach to screamo. This can sadly at times leave the efforts here feeling somewhat weaker than previous records like Self-Portrait or career-highlight I.V., especially when things start to feel on the cusp of pop-punk, but the moments of genuine post-rock beauty that are sprinkled across this material compensates for that admirably.
It’s worth noting as well that they’re tasked with the perennially difficult job of translating a genre of music that lives and dies on the basement floor, the sweat and frantic energy of the crowd mingling with the performer, on a record that they can’t change after the fact. Tracks like “One-Off (Part 2)” live best in this recorded environment, feeling like heartbroken balladeering you’d want from a record like this; “Sunlight” meanwhile, for all its incredible power as a classic emotional hardcore track, feels like it’s meant to live in live performance rather than recording.
What’s missing is hard to put your finger on. Previous records had a sense of ambition to them, albeit one pointed inward rather than extending to double-digit song lengths. Take, for instance, the sidereal Rush reference of opening I.V. with a track called “Fly By Night,” certainly a non-intentional nod, but one backed up ironically by the presence of parts 4 through 6 of their multi-part suite “Trilogy”. Last to its credit does feature two tracks cracking the 5 minute mark, which for a group like Loma Prieta may as well be a prog epic, and the material here shows a variety of approaches to the genre. But ambition is more than just whether the songs are complex; it’s also a sense of assemblage, what it all amounts to, which for Last is a somewhat muddier picture than previous records.
There is still an outpouring of emotionality; July for me is a season of intense grief both literal and existential, and the record still often left me a weepy mess, which means fundamentally it did succeed at that which it set out to do. It’s just hard not to feel that perhaps, had this not come out, one of their previous records might have satisfied that same impulse even moreso. This sense is intensified given both the title of the record and the eight-year gap between this and its predecessor. Last is certainly not a bad record, but if this is to be the end, it’s hard not to want something that might feel more definitive and ultimately more violent, more beautiful.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.