“I’ve got a bad set of moods/ And I think it’s gonna be a while/ Be a while ’til they move,” Soul Low frontman Jake Balistrieri sings on “Bad Set of Moods,” a chirpy pop-punk tune from the band’s new record Cheer Up. The song shrewdly belies a sulky narrator with a rousing chorus of ‘la la la’s and ‘da da da’s.
Like a sunshower raining down on the beach during a warm summer afternoon, Cheer Up balances breezy, uplifting party-rock vibes with moody, melodramatic lyrics. It’s an album that’s suitable to blast during a party; but it’s also one to contemplate in a room by yourself once everyone’s gone home with other people. It’s the group’s third record and keenly nestles between the manic hooks of 2013 debut UNEASY and the downtrodden angst of 2016’s Nosebleeds.[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1430686324 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
“In some degree, we all wrestle with anxiety and depression,” bassist Sam Gehrke says about the members of the band. “[Cheer Up] nods at a bunch of that stuff. It’s a reminder to ourselves to chill the fuck out.”
The album cover art depicts beautiful bow windows and a flawless reflection on the teal-colored indoor pool. Photographed by Phillip J. Hoffmann at the Alakai Hotel & Suites in the Wisconsin Dells, the shot happens to be a strikingly apt metaphor for the record.
Even though Gerhke says the band passed on another cover photo that they “thought embodied the aesthetic of fun in appearance, but kind of depressing as you analyze a little more,” the one the band ended up picking also accomplishes that same feeling. At first stunning, the tackiness of the hotel pool starts to reveal itself upon a deeper inspection.
The album follows a similar trajectory. On first listen, the songs sound effervescent and heartening but after multiple listens, you start feeling the pain that Balistrieri belts out. “Do you wanna die? So do I/ But cheer up everything is fine,” Balistrieri repeats on the searing self-titled album closer.
Earlier on, the band dives into a song about infamous ‘90s Milwaukee serial killer Jeffery Dahmer.
“Jake and I went to elementary school together and I have vivid memories of—I don’t know exactly the time period—but being on the bus; he had researched some new serial killer,” Gerhke remembers. “He would tell us the story of what they would do and if they got locked up and how long they were out. Jeffery Dahmer was always a cornerstone of those conversations. I had this campy bassline that him and I would always riff on. One day he came back and said, ‘I have lyrics for this.’”
“Called me over to the evergreen they said they had to warn me secretly/ Jeffrey Dahmer lives right down the street/ Told me I was just plump enough to eat,” Balistrieri cheekily sings on “JD & Me.”
But even soaked with all the despair, Cheer Up manages to float above the malaise and lift itself up on the sheer strength of the band’s knack for accessible hooks. It’s the best Soul Low record to date.
Soul Low celebrates the release of Cheer Up on Saturday, August 12, at the Polish Falcon, 803 E. Clarke St., with openers Cairns. Doors open at 7 p.m.