Where were you when The Wave hit? Around a decade ago, a generation of post-hardcore acts—including La Dispute, Touche Amore, Balance And Composure, Defeater and Pianos Become The Teeth—were assigned this nebulous umbrella term. Apparently it started as an in-joke that got out of hand and, in the end, The Wave crested and broke before it became a major movement. The bands it encompassed were just too disparate (are Defeater and Balance And Composure really that similar?) and were too eager to experiment, too keen to twist themselves into new shapes to hold on to any sort of classification.
Pianos Become The Teeth have gone through one of the most radical shifts out of all the bands that rode The Wave. While their first two albums saw the Baltimore band fuse raw screamo with post-rock majesty, since 2014’s Keep You the band have notably refined their sound, ejecting vocalist Kyle Durfey’s raw screams and reining in their heavier tendencies. This latest, the band’s third on Epitaph Records, comes four years on from previous full-length Wait For Love. That album continued down Keep You’s path, retaining the bombast while gradually moving away from the post-rock influences that have become practically de rigueur for emo acts of this era.
If there’s one defining trait that bands caught up in The Wave shared, it was a love of fierce melodrama. This achingly-emotive tone sometimes got the better of them (go back to La Dispute’s first album and try not to giggle and some of the teenage histrionics on display). However, following these bands and how they’ve developed these intense emotions across their subsequent releases has been consistently intriguing. Drift sees Pianos Become The Teeth venturing in an especially nervous and enigmatic direction. Early tracks like “Genevieve” and “The Tricks” are driven by an anxious momentum, propelling the lean compositions through frantic emotional beats that will feel fresh and unique for long-time listeners of the band.
Durfey has explained that “for me, this record feels like one long night,” a quote that’s open to multiple interpretations. There’s a nocturnal stupor to the blurry nature of these ten tracks’ sequencing, which ebb and flow like overlapping dreams. There’s also the dreamlike introspection of the lyrics, such as “Mouth” which matches impressionistic lyrics with a possibly-metatextual refrain of “we are not who we used to be.” Finally there’s the tempos, which descend from the twitchy opening tracks to slower, equally-troubling depths. It’s like a restless night lying in bed, overthinking existence, before eventually drifting into a troubled slumber.
Adopting this mode of moody jitteriness has resulted in Pianos Become The Teeth’s most adventurous album. “Skiv” is a compellingly subtle ballad, while “Buckley’ is a mini epic that increases in intensity—a patient style that the band occasionally struggled with on previous releases. Drift is also lighter-on-its-feet than the band’s previous full-lengths, which often did little to levy or balance their punishing intensity. The album displays admirable maturity, a willingness to explore space and texture while sacrificing none of the potent emotions that the band harness so fluently. Drift is as stirring as ever, but Pianos Become The Teeth have discovered new layers to their intensity, new shades of shadowed light and nocturnal dark.