Philadelphia’s Sweet Pill write eruptive emo songs that embrace the edges of pop and hardcore. The kind of band whose members are fully immersed in their local scene—through a handful of notable side projects and the show-promoting Philly staple 4333 Collective—the quintet’s sound takes wide-spectrum influence from its environment. The result is an amalgam of complex song structures and flourishes of technical acumen, wholly unconcerned with genre, yet evoking the specific styles of touchstones such as Paramore and Circa Survive.
Philadelphia trio Carly Cosgrove’s debut LP, See You In Chemistry, is about growth, but not the tidy, Instagram-ready kind. At its beginning, vocalist and guitarist Lucas Naylor is steady, stable, and happy: the work has been done, progress has been made, things are alright. Over the remaining 11 tracks, and across a complex, earworm patchwork of riotous emo punk, towering post-hardcore, mathy indie rock, and crystalline shoegaze, things fall apart: bands dissolve, friendships end, and self-doubt, depression and anxiety triple-team their way to victory over happiness.
“Chronologically, this record comes after a point where I thought I got a lot of personal growth done,” says Naylor. “But at a certain point I just found myself hitting a wall, I felt like I was moving backwards. Whenever people talk about growth, it’s always in triumphs: ‘Look at this destination I’ve finally reached.’ With this, the whole record is kind of a step backwards.”
Besides being a reference to Nickelodeon TV show Drake and Josh, See You In Chemistry doubles as a comment on the chemicals that govern our brains and bodies, and a semi-hopeful glance toward some future moment when things might be better again. “The idea behind the title is that I’m going to be someone else later when I figure things out,” says Naylor. “It’s not all linear,” adds bassist Helen Barsz.
“It’s not the obvious, cliche growth album,” says drummer Tyler Kramer. “It’s more about how hard growth actually is.”
Naylor, Barsz, and Kramer met while playing in different bands around Philadelphia and started jamming after Naylor booked Barsz and Kramer at a coffee shop in Westchester. The project started as jokey and “memey,” taking its name from a combo of the show iCarly and its lead actress, Miranda Cosgrove. (Note: all Carly Cosgrove song titles are references pulled from either iCarly or Drake and Josh. Impressive commitment to a bit while still producing incredible music. Naylor says the goal is to get a cease and desist.)
The trio bring different backgrounds to the band: Naylor’s education in jazz piano and love of ‘fightpop’ bands like Letterbox and Bloc Party, Barsz’s experience in post-hardcore and emo outfits across Philly and New Jersey, and Kramer’s affinity for hometown DIY bands like Mumbler and Marietta.
This debut record has been two years in the making. The band recorded with producer Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Joyce Manor) at his Headroom Studios over a week, with the intention to create a record with three people that sounds like a five-piece band. Style and substance were of equal importance: the music had to be peppy and sincere, hyper and bombastic while maintaining a high degree of technical and structural complexity. Think Title Fight and Manchester Orchestra meet the rhythmic precision and tonal variety of jazz and hip hop.
“Sit ‘n’ Bounce” lifts the curtain with a driving snare rim snap and Naylor’s vocals, gentle and quiet, over fingerpicked guitar before slamming the gas pedal to the floor with a bellowed admission of frustration and futility: “I’m chasing my tail around!” shouts Naylor. Lead single “Munck” comes next, a pounding flurry of emo-pop-punk and post-hardcore fury that finds Naylor trying to find his place in a climate of anger and rage. “I can’t feel the way you want me to/But I’ll try to understand, I’ll be your biggest fan,” he sings on the chorus.
“Anger and rage have their place, and they’re really powerful and valuable emotions,” says Naylor. “They’re just not a thing that comes easy to me because of how I was raised. ‘Munck’ is making the case for both of those things to coexist with other responses, without only one of them being the only way.”
Next comes the midtempo emo churn of “Really Big Shrimp,” a plea for slamming the brakes on the merciless march of time: “I just wanna cut my teeth a few more times, keep away from tempting signs/Make no friends and take no risks so no one gets to fuck with this!” shouts Naylor before a breakdown that’s at once brutal and gentle. “The Cooliest? Don’t Ruin it” follows, waiting for the other shoe to drop over pop punk riffing: “I’ve got a good thing going, better than I’ve ever had/But there’s a shelf life on a good thing, how long ‘till the thing goes bad?”
“The Great Doheny” (pronounced dough-hee-knee) is an indie rock romp through identity crisis, cycling through sounds and arrangements before settling into a halftime chorus while Naylor negotiates with a separate version of himself: “When I wanna go out he goes instead/He says he’s a people person, I nod my head.” “Gamesphere” narrates a mid-tour breakdown from another life, while “Rue The Day” rumbles in on Barsz’s bass and frenetic tapping from Naylor. “Cloudblock” ends on a manic stomp that bleeds into “Headaches,” a scabbed post-punk ripper that wrestles with insecurity: “I don’t wanna know my worth, I’d rather be worthless/Than worth less than I’d guess,” admits Naylor.
Closer “See You In Chemistry” runs just shy of eight minutes, a monumental, multi-movement shoegaze retrospective epic with Naylor, bruised and wounded, taking stock and plotting his recovery: “I am gonna find my footing again!” he belts into the abyss.
See You In Chemistry inverts the pop culture myth that our experiences lead us to one static way of being. It’s interesting to consider how much damage that myth has caused in the quiet moments of alone that every person experiences: if we haven’t reached equilibrium, have we really grown? The reality that Carly Cosgrove share on their debut is that no person is final, no thing is sure and certain. Coming to understand this truth is as important as the life-long processes that comprise it. See You In Chemistry is a hopeful invitation to a better place, a better way, a better life—somehow, somewhere down the line.
At one point or another, Seth Engel let go. Swimming Feeling is Options’ “fuck it” record: all fun, no frills, bangers only. While 2020’s Window’s Open sunk into uncertain darkness, Swimming Feeling stumbles through it. Options’ latest record is a reflection in the dark, a triumphant shrug and the answer to a question: “what is this all for?”
In 2018, Engel quit touring and started teaching music at a nonprofit. There, he began breaking down everything he knew about music – the collaboration, the community and the connection. “I love the interaction and sharing of the beautiful mysterious thing that is music. Making this record was a mission to share that thing with myself.”
In addition to teaching, Seth Engel also found himself playing, recording and working with bands like Floatie, Mister Goblin and Water From Your Eyes, finding collaboration to be another natural source of self-reflection. “Watching how different groups of people interact can inform the way I choose to interact with myself,” he explains.
There’s a notable confidence on Swimming Feeling – a clearheadedness that’s both cracked and composed. Following the heady intensity of Window’s Open, Options’ latest is a joyous reconnection with music, and it’s hard not to emphasize Seth Engel’s present ethos. Swimming Feeling is an unpretentious and bonkers-positive perspective on life, craft and perseverance.
Each new Options record has offered a distinct element of Engel’s increasingly refined style and approach. Swimming Feeling is revelatory and referential. “Weathered” takes on the plug-and-play formula from On the Draw, while “Nothing” recalls Wind’s Gonna Blow’s hefty, climactic melodies. This record is the sound of all the songwriter’s efforts coming to fruition, the ideas and experiments of past material coalescing into a cohesive and wise collection of hits.
Engel never worried about translating these songs live after quitting touring, leading to experimentation with songwriting and recording. After several rounds of mixing “The Bend,” Engel added its acoustic outro for variation and balance. Demo elements are present on “Take it Tough,” a piecemeal track Engel finished after diving back into ProTools and manually creating space to insert a new part. And while these songs were assembled with composure and nuance, “Get Me” proves all you need is one hot riff.
The new Options record feels indicative of a new chapter in Seth Engel’s life. It’s bold and good, exceptionally paced, his most realized work yet. Swimming Feeling was built when everything felt broken; Engel picks up the pieces and cranks out the hits.