Back around three or four years ago, there was a movement in hardcore dubbed ‘The Wave’, a tongue-in-cheek stab at a sub-genre encompassing the genre’s more visceral, verbose acts like Touché Amoré or La Dispute. The term fizzled out as quickly as was established, but that acts that fell under its umbrella have continued to have solid careers since. Still, the lack of a real tag hasn’t stopped bands of a similar sound from emerging. Case in point – San Diego post-hardcore band My Iron Lung, whose 2014 debut Relief was positively received on an underground level, but beyond that was largely ignored. It’s hard to picture a different fate for follow-up Learn To Leave, a continuation of Wave motifs somewhat anchored in an indie and post-rock foundation.
But on the whole, Learn To Leave isn’t bad at all. It doesn’t see My Iron Lung venture very far from their usual wheelhouse, but there’s a decent level of passion and vigour to their sound, and that’s appreciated either way. It’s more of a driving force on this album than any sort of hooks, which are in very short supply thanks to the obtuse rumble of the guitars and Matt Fitzgerald’s earnest, if not entirely intense screams. It still manages to remain compelling though thanks to its instrumentation, whose dark, hypnotising qualities mesh well with the rawness of the vocals, like on the tortured Sleep Cycle Blues, or the shuffling, wandering bass of Somnium, possibly the closest this album comes to being catchy. The band manage to poke the heads out of The Wave’s boundaries on Damage and Anchorage, which take an approach akin to scream-bolstered emo rather than post-hardcore, but Learn To Leave largely holds a high watermark of consistency in both sound and quality.
And that’s really the album’s main problem. Learn To Leave paints My Iron Lung as a band with little to no peripheral vision in terms of influence and draws, leading to this album mostly sounding like a grab-bag of various Wave tropes, cobbled together in a very cohesive but obvious way. Even the seemingly more innovative parts of the band’s sound remain grounded in the same scene – the rickety, indie-touched emo that comprises most of the instrumentals can easily be traced back to more awkward, angular acts like La Dispute, and while the lighter, dreamier female vocals on the likes of the title track worm their way in from acts like Fucked Up who reside just outside the scene, it only serves to highlight the lack of a true, original personality that My Iron Lung have. As a result, Learn To Leave can sometimes drag, if only because the collaged approach to songcraft is, more often than not, blatantly noticeable.
That’s not to say that My Iron Lung don’t do what they do well. While they may not sound all that original, they’re incredibly good at maneuvering their influences for a result that works for them. Just look at Mend, a track that co-opts both the melodic nouse of latter-day Pianos Become The Teeth with the caustic howls of Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm, but in a way that sits naturally with their own playing capabilities. This is a band who rigidly stick to their own lane, but use up every inch of space they have to maximise their own output.
Having said that, My Iron Lung still have a way to go before they reach the same footing as some of their influences. They’re still yet to fully capture the zeitgeist-defining angst that their contemporaries have more or less mastered, and that’ll only really be the case when they find a recognisable sound of their own. But as of now, Learn To Leave lays down the foundations upon which My Iron Lung can build something great upon – they’ve got the talent, they just need to put their own stamp on things to make the best use of it. Right now it falls a bit hollow, but there’s still not a lot to really complain about.
For fans of: La Dispute, Pianos Become The Teeth, Touché Amoré
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Learn To Leave’ by My Iron Lung is out now on Pure Noise Records.