Album Review: Carpool – ‘My Life In Subtitles’

Posted: by The Editor

From first listen, there’s a sense that My Life In Subtitles is Carpool’s swing-for-the-fences record. These songs are dense in the best way possible, with layers that never become too overlapped, bleeding into each at the right moments and pulling back to highlight an idea at others. Carpool’s last full-length, Erotic Nightmare Summer, certainly established them as one of the more exciting emo bands of the moment—a band that could not only write catchy tunes, but could also absolutely shred, with songs like “Beauty School Dropout” where the hook comes from the guitar riffs as much as the vocal line. On the 2022 EP For Nasal Use Only, Carpool began to push into sunnier pop territory, and it’s that sound that fully blossoms in the three-song run that forms the centerpiece of My Life In Subtitles

Structurally, My Life In Subtitles follows a path from piano ballad to rippers to a breezy pop run, back to the rippers, and then to a piano ballad to close out the circle. The first run of rippers finds Carpool in comfortable territory, with singles “Can We Just Get High?” and “Open Container Blues” largely coming across as Carpool doing what they do best. Sick riffs, active drums, and shithead lyrics about getting fucked up abound, but the first kernels of the ambition present on My Life In Subtitles also start to peak through with an extensive guitar solo taking out “Can We Just Get High?” while intricate riffs, bright synths, and a killer guest appearance from Cliffdiver’s Briana Wright help push “Open Container Blues” to another level.

It’s on “Crocodile Tears,” though, where Carpool really start to stretch their sound. An extensive five-minute track that morphs from a steady garage-rocker bolstered by the constant attack from the lead guitar line to a closing with the heaviest burst on the first half of the record. It’s followed by the three lightest, poppiest tunes Carpool has released yet—although they were certainly foreshadowed by “Discretion of Possession (A Love Song).” While the turn in sound may be abrupt at first, Carpool eases you in with “Done Paying Taxes,” a breezy, layered tune with a wordless hook echoed in the piano line. 

While “Done Paying Taxes” functions as a somewhat transitory track between the record’s phases, Carpool is in full pop mode with “Kid Icarus.” The group shows their deftness in this relatively unfamiliar sonic area, with a key change about three-quarters of the way through that would be in danger of coming off as cheesy if they didn’t nail it so damn well. It’s a moment that does everything a key change in a song like this should, and one that only works when you can pick up a sense of genuine emotion behind it. 

Like “Done Paying Taxes,” “Me Vs. The Windmill” seems like the link between the two worlds of pop and rippers, finding its home in the haze. It’s followed by the single “No News Is Good News,” a tune that—like side one singles—finds Carpool in comfortable territory as the catchy punk soundtracks singer Stoph Colasanto drunk on payday and just fucking up in general. While the same could likely be said about “I Hate Music,” there seems to be an element of sardonic self-examination here, as if Colasanto is commenting back on the “fuck me, I’ll get drunk and fuck it up again” nature of many of the songs on the group’s previous releases. Like the other tracks that feel like “classic” Carpool, “I Hate Music” still finds the group pushing more complex ideas on top of their previous sounds, with the nasty, disorienting riff in the verses hitting particularly well.

While “No News Is Good News” and “I Hate Music” signaled the return of the rippers, it’s far from a race to the end of the record from there. “CAR” is absolutely brutal, almost working as a reassurance to anyone who balked at “Kid Icarus,” as it’s by far the heaviest song the group has put out (and it fucking rocks). “Thom Yorke New City” forms a natural pair with “Crocodile Tears” as the furthest-reaching tracks on each side of the record. It’s a high point here that keeps the energy up after “CAR” despite the significantly slower tempo. It’s also a highlight for drummer Alec Westover, sounding great on both the song-stopping solo and sick hi-hat part thrown in at times. 

Without a doubt Carpool’s most ambitious outing to date—a fact apparent even in the literary/video game references in the song titles in the album’s poppy three-song centerpiece—My Life In Subtitles is likely to catch the band’s fans a little by surprise, while equally unlikely to disappoint those fans, as every time the group stretches into new territory they do so with a balance of comfort and conscious calculation. 

My Life In Subtitles is out everywhere today with vinyl available from SideOneDummy Records.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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