January 22, 2022

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Worst Party Ever: Dartland Album Review


If there was any question whether a band called Worst Party Ever qualifies as emo, consider that their debut, Dartland, has a house on the cover. But as the genre has become ever more atomized and antic since their formation in 2014, the Seattle-via-Sarasota quartet have distinguished themselves in reverse, functioning at an even, slightly elevated emotional keel. Songwriter Andy Schueneman experiences the same communication breakdowns and spiritual crises as his peers, but instead of screaming into the void, he offers a shrug and a shoulder to lean on.

The band’s 2016 compilation Anthology crammed 21 songs into 53 minutes; representative titles include “Did the Cubs Just Win the World Series?” and “Sleeping With My Cellphone (Demo).” Conversely, only one of 12 song titles on Dartland is “funny” and most are just one word. Worst Party Ever recorded the album with producer Tyler Floyd, who’s helped other scrappy, emo-adjacent acts (Greet Death, Dogleg, Michigander) level up their sound. But while Dartland appears to be the first Worst Party Ever release forged by actual expectation, it holds true to their credo of never making anything seem like too big a deal. Nearly half the songs check out after about a minute and a half, evoking rain-slicked Pacific Northwest indie rock c. 2002, the early emo revival’s folkier variants, and the plainspoken, compact specs of pop music right this moment. For people in Worst Party Ever’s age demo, Dartland might recall latter-day Tigers Jaw songs stuffed into TikTok or early Joyce Manor if they had access to Rob Schnapf’s production.

Schueneman’s sonorous, conversational vocals are just about the only thing left from Worst Party Ever’s origins as a topical acoustic emo band jokingly compared to the Front Bottoms. If not the most dynamic instrument, it’s a voice well-suited to express a palpable yet manageable unease. The minor-key surge of “Circle” gets the blood moving, but it won’t open up the pit. The wistful leads of “Prism on a Window” suggest a pervasive wistfulness but will not induce any tears not already in motion. Dartland is littered with strong choruses and the verses are just as melodically immediate—in case Schueneman decides to end a song without a chorus, which he often does.

Dartland’s sense of modesty and restraint can be as frustrating as it is endearing. On a cursory listen, the album’s 23 minutes breeze by like a sitcom in the background. With undivided attention, its shortcomings intensify: There’s no dramatic arc, no moment of true catharsis, or a sonic curve aside from the acoustic intro and tempo shifts of “Provenance.” But if we’re to take Schueneman at his word, the longing for something greater in Worst Party Ever’s music is by design; Dartland seeks an exact frequency to express distinct wants that are not likely to be satisfied any time soon.

In his songs, Schueneman yearns for a new body to test out his resolution for cleaner living, a new god that can give him advance warning about all the ways he’s going to fuck up—but until then, he spends “Provenance” continuing to fill his current body with drugs. He does not want to leave his house, or sometimes even his bathroom, but what to do about weather so beautiful it feels like a supernatural challenge to depression? Friends talk endlessly into the night about future plans, but no one wants to change. On the closing “Into the PÜR,” Scheuneman asks, “Do you still talk to all your friends?/The people you lived near when you were a kid,” and it doesn’t sound rhetorical. Throughout Dartland, he regards people engaged in healthy and fulfilling social relationships as if he’s staring at a UFO. When you’re on Worst Party Ever’s wavelength, the things that aren’t really, like, that big of a deal are low-key all-consuming.


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