For anyone with a penchant for emo, it’s not secret that the genre’s been having a fantastic year in 2017, and to pinpoint an even smaller subsection that’s been feeling the benefits, it’s the bands with stories to tell and hearts to let bleed. The reason that both Have Mercy’s Make The Best Of It and Sorority Noise’s You’re Not As _____ As You Think have held particular resonance comes in their trying and subsequent struggling to cope, be it with the self-destructive aftermath of a relationship in the former, of the suicides of a number of close friends in the latter. A key part of that is the open-endedness of both albums; this might be an outlet, but in the end, it doesn’t feel as though closure is reached. So enter into the fray Free Throw, the Nashville quintet treading a very similar line, with their 2014 debut Those Days Are Gone gaining quite the cult following for being the sort of hyper-earnest, emotionally-charged emo that always goes down well.
On its follow-up Bear Your Mind, it’s not difficult to see how the band slot into the genre’s current lineup with no fuss – gritty and melodic in the vein of Modern Baseball, with frontman Cory Castro being completely open as he becomes the latest to take a trip around the teenage wasteland. Granted, it’s the same criteria that virtually every praiseworthy emo band has adhered to this year, and it’s true that Free Throw don’t have that particular USP to mark them out amongst the rest. But that doesn’t matter, as just like those same bands, Free Throw can pull this sort of thing off phenomenally well, and Bear Your Mind‘s lack of innovation becomes overshadowed by the fact that this band just have so much to offer in terms of quality.
And it’s not as if this album is a blatant rehash of those from other bands either. Emo is undeniably the base material for Free Throw’s sound, but bolstering it with burly pop-punk bounce on Rinse. Repeat., early post-hardcore on Weight On My Chest and gentle, simmering indie-rock on Hope Spot, Bear Your Mind has a looseness to how it flows that Free Throw use to their advantage. For an album that isn’t particularly hook driven, a lot about it continues to stick, whether it’s Castro’s prominent vocal shifts from a softer rasp to a pop-punk vocal not unlike Neck Deep’s Ben Barlow, or the incisive melodies of tracks like Randy, I Am The Liquor and Andy And I, Uh… that manage to bury into the memory in record time.
It’s a similar case for what’s being said on this album, in what sees Free Throw retelling the well-worn breakup narrative, though with the added details to make it a lot more compelling. The biggest comes in the dependency that Castro’s narrator has on alcohol and the role that it plays to the experience, causing the relationship to end on Rinse. Repeat., serving as his one source of salvation on Randy, I Am The Liquor and Cal Ripken Jr Johnson before his suppressed frustrations appear in the bottom of a glass on Dead Reckoning. It’s this sort of inner conflict between self-control and fully slipping over the edge that gives the narrative its weight, with the fact that the narrator isn’t portrayed to be all that likeable having a similar effect. But the reason that Bear Your Mind is so successful is exactly the same as both Make The Best Of It and You’re Not As _____ As You Think – there’s a deliberate ambiguity that bears the brunt of its effects. Just look at closer Victory Road, where Castro is once again drowning his sorrows when he gets a text from his ex, telling him to meet her for a drink. The swell in the instrumental builds, he describes how beautiful she is, she leads him in, and the song cuts off, taking the implied happy ending a muddying it considerably. In terms of formation, its context clues are the most prominent of the three, but there’s intelligence in the songwriting here that gives Free Throw the upper hand.
And as off-putting as it may be that, yes, this is another emo that album that, yes, has another broken relationship at the forefront of its mind, Bear Your Mind is too much of a smart listen to ignore. There’s a couple of extra layers of complexity here that make it such a satisfying experience, with the sort of half-open payoff that fully supports it. As much as it’s an album that existing emo fans will get the most enjoyment from, Free Throw really have nailed this one, and in a year where the competition is already at such a high standard.
For fans of: Modern Baseball, Neck Deep, Sorority Noise
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bear Your Mind’ by Free Throw is released on 26th May on Triple Crown Records.