[sic] Magazine

Pianos Become The Teeth – Keep You. (2014)

Pianos Become the Teeth are an American rock band from Baltimore, Maryland, formed in 2006. Their musical style began inspired by post-rock and early screamo acts, and with their early releases they became a leading part of the post-hardcore movement. Blah blah blah….

(Pasted from an interweb bio)

I didn’t know any of the above until now. Keep You was a surprise, a recommendation from an acquaintance and I was quietly blown away by it. Perhaps, as a music Editor I should be across all the genres of music? I accept that up to a point but I also think you need to be authentic, be yourself, and be true to your own musical values. Plus, of course, taste. Screamo and hardcore were closed doors to me. To an extent they still are. However Pianos Become the Teeth opened another door on their third studio album. A door I was very happy to step through.

“If it’s true, here’s me telling you,
and here’s me glad as hell that you’ll never know”

There are no screamed vocals on the Baltimore act’s third album. Understandably this caused considerable uproar within the existing fanbase. I have to say that personally I’m thankful. For me Kyle Durfey has stepped out of the shadows to reveal himself as a very capable vocalist. Life seems to have left its indelible thumbprint on the front man. On Keep You, Durfey has range, control and an identifiable personality. There’s a pang of nostalgic regret to his voice now. There’s also an aching soulfulness and the suggestion of hope. He may be bruised and battle scarred but Durfey is still around, still here.

He’s in this for the long haul.

It would be difficult for me to review Keep You in terms of screamo or the bands own previous output for the reasons already given. (Apologies, long term fans. Hopefully I can impart a different perspective.) To me the album sounds a million miles away from their former peers. Listening to Keep You I’d reference them against the likes of Sophia, Idlewild, or The Twilight Sad. At their more intimate moments they even recall The National, a band I believe guitarist Mike York admires. That said Pianos Become the Teeth remain a heavi(er) American rock band. We could run through each track here and have plenty to cover. I won’t do that. Keep You is one of those rare beasties, an album to experience in its entirety. No skipping required. That’s not to say it lacks variety (It doesn’t). Nor is it to suggest you won’t have favourites (You will.)

The evolution from screamo punk to sweeping melodic rock feels to me like a band growing up, maturing. This isn’t solely down to Durfey. The whole band had realised that less is sometimes more. Sure, they still know how to hit the afterburners, but more crucially they’ve’ learned when to. The power of restraint has freed them up to be far more emotionally impactful. Case in point, ‘Old Jaw’, – a beautiful, reflective song from the onset but over its duration Pianos Become the Teeth manage to ramp things increasingly upward. So much so that by its conclusion the song reverts to trademark cathartic power.

“You’re about what you’re about
let me tell you I have my doubts,
every word in your mouth
always lifted these lashes,
every word in your mouth
got the lashes out”

‘Old Jaw’ is a perfect example of the new band Pianos Become the Teeth have become. Had it been just noise from start to finish, in an album full of similarly raging songs, the impact would be lessened, if not lost altogether. However, starting gently as it does, its aching refrain takes us almost by the hand on a journey toward that climax. The whole band play crucial roles on Keep You. Guitars twinkle, bass is warm and comforting like a winter coat pulled tight. David Haik (drums) in particular must have had fun making this record as he essentially adapts a post-rock style into traditional ‘rock song’ format. (Producer Will Yip, a drummer himself, doubtless had a hand here. Indeed his final mix seems note perfect to me.)

On top of it all we have Kyle Durfey. His yearning flutter is the kind of voice that makes good lyrics sound great. The thing is he’s already writing great lyrics. That step away from screamo allows for more light to be shone upon the subject matter here. This is welcome. This material is highly personal, dealing with some very difficult moments in Durfey’s life.

“You got your wasting,
you got away,
you got your dad,
his dying days,
you got it all”

In an interview with Noisey, Durfey said: “the older you get, the more rare it is to hear a record that’s like, “Holy shit, this is unbelievable.” You sit down with it, you digest it. I mean, it’s a big hope but I hope people view this record the same way. I just wanted to make a solid record where all of the songs are good start to finish. I just want people to spend time with it, not just listen to it once and say, “All right, it’s cool”

He needn’t have worried. At times Keep You can be an emotionally overwhelming experience. Each song leads you on a journey where an emotional pull will eventually give way to a surge. “Holy shit, this is unbelievable” is as accurate a description for Keep You as any. This record is alchemy. Words and music come together creating something else, something more. I’ve listened to it multiple times and I keep discovering new things. It is wonderful.

“And in the end,
“that’s as good as it gets, man.”

Editor’s Note: There is a deluxe version of Keep You which bundles additional tracks from that era. One of these is the absolutely stunning ‘895’. I’m in two minds over such deluxe versions. For me, Keep You is Keep You. ‘Say Nothing’ is the ending track. Fans will know what I mean here. That said I wouldn’t be without ‘895’ so I leave the choice up to the individual.

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