Like Like The The The Death’s 2012 debut album, Ghosts of Dead Bros, was a crag of seething noise and post-punk defined by sharp songwriting and a goofball sense of humor. It also supplied one super hit. Tucked between two typical LLTTTD barn-burners was “Holy Ghosty,” a rock song beamed in from mid-’90s college radio with a sunny chord progression, mega-catchy chorus, and, rarest of all, actual singing. It was and is a band-defining, album-transcending song; a live show staple destined to a long, happy life on mix CDs and local airwaves, made all the more intriguing by the fact that it sounded nothing like the rest of the album. It was enough to make you wonder if the song was the tip of some vast, undiscovered iceberg of pop genius.
This week, LLTTTD releases Cave Jenny, an album front-loaded with enough bona fide hits to suggest that “Ghosty” was no fluke. The scribbling guitars of “Here Comes Irregular” are bright and exuberant, the initial jaggedness of “Cropsies” gives way to the album’s catchiest chorus, and “Cry Tag” is a miniature rock masterpiece. The songs are more writerly and melodic than anything the band has done before. And yet, even as it explores more (cringe) “infectious” territory, LLTTTD never loses the manic edge that defined most of Ghosts. Rest (un)assured: There is still the sense that things could fly completely off the rails at any moment, and eventually, inevitably, they do.
On the heels of “Cry Tag,” “Hypnic Jerk” alternates between a sneering wall of guitars and a malicious metal riff, effectively re-introducing LLTTTD as the band we remember from Ghosts: thorny, militant, and a lot of fun. Cave Jenny‘s second half all but abandons its new beginnings for something much less huggable. But despite its spiky mess of guitars, hyperactive vocal caterwauling and general stick-em’-up attitude (“Holy hell/ it’s bright in here/ save some god damn energy, man!”), it’s actually quite welcoming; in a brotherly, moshy kind of way.
But sorting Cave Jenny into “pop songs” and “not pop songs” is a coarse way of looking at a very intricate album. While the first third feels more finished than the rest, LLTTTD crams each track with enough twists and turns to keep things broad and interesting. The carnival-esque organ snaking through “Night of 100 Hondos,” for example, or the gloomy piano chords that draw the curtain on “Very Important Fun Person,” are moments that make Cave Jenny worth coming back to, whether you’re craving a good pop song or a crackling jab to the eardrums.