Free Throw’s Bear Your Mind was a great album, taking the sort of emo that had hit one hell of a stride in 2017 and proceeding to do it better than so many others around them. But even then, it flew under the radar for so many, a fact that, over time, has become a lot easier to explain. For its undeniable quality, it’s not an album that’s really stuck or stood out among the swathes of emo that’s come since, and it’s led to Free Throw once again being something of a footnote within the modern scene. That only becomes more of a shame when the genuine struggles woven into their music reveal themselves more and more, and thus What’s Past Is Prologue feels like it comes from a band with a lot to prove. The emo scene they’d nestled into has become a bit less cramped now, and with early statements and indications suggesting an even deeper, darker dive than previously, this could be the moment where Free Throw begin to hit in a way they’ve long deserved to.
And with that in mind, if there’s one thing that can be said about where Free Throw are in 2019, it’s that they’re incredibly good at what they’re doing. Both sonically and thematically, this is about as pure and untampered as modern emo comes, and while some of that does bleed through a bit too heavily to stop them from moving forward by any considerable amount, What’s Past Is Prologue has its fair share of moments that truly impress. As far as rising up the ranks and becoming one of the genre’s go-to names, that still feels like a bit of a stretch, but they’re certainly on their way, and this is pretty much as solid as evidence for that comes.
It also means that – as far as presentation goes, anyway – there’s a limit about what can be said about Free Throw here. By now, they’ve already proven how adept they are at painting their gruff, gritty emo melodies with shades of pop-punk and post-hardcore, and even if they’re not exactly pushing the boat out in any way (something which, when considering their presence in the wider confines of the genre, becomes more of a detriment), it’s something they’re able to do a lot with. There’s a softer, more pensive touch to tracks like Smokes, Let’s Go and Cerulean City for an opportunity to open the sound up more, while Tail Whip, Struggle and Today Is Especially Delicious double down on the meatier pop-punk bounce of The Story So Far but with a healthy dose of emo shapeshifting for reinforcement. It’s reminiscent of Can’t Swim a lot of the time, and even if they’ve largely been able to do this sort of thing better overall, that’s the sort of comparison point that Free Throw should be looking towards if this is the lane they want to stay in. There’s clear strength in what they’re doing with a sound that isn’t simply a one-dimensional confluence of distinct emo tropes; sure, they could do a bit more to stop the album from feeling as long and unfortunately bloated as it can, but the punchier, harder-hitting brand of emo that Free Throw have latched onto is a good look for them.
It’s also what gives the writing the presence that it has, a factor that comes especially esteemed when it’s effectively another run-through of the low-to-high mental health arc that’s such a mainstay, and that few bands have really been able to do to a great extent. For Free Throw though, they have the detail and passion to really fly at points, mostly down to Cory Castro’s vocals and range from deep, empty dejection to razor-throated cries. Both have their strong suits as well; there’s a sense of true desperation to the self-medication experienced on Smokes, Let’s Go, building through the album until the gut-wrenching fever pitch comes on Anaconda Vice’s screams of “I’m spinning out of control”. More than most, there’s a combination of vulnerability and contempt in Castro’s vocals that keeps the emotionality dense, until the resolution begins in the second half, reaching a place of contentment and love, especially on Cerulean City, and one final exertion of positivity on the closing title track. It’s familiar but deftly avoids anything close to trite or maudlin, and that’s where Free Throw’s main saving grace lies; they’re deeply entrenched in what emo is and represents, but there’s such a realism to how they portray that it’s more difficult to judge them for it than most.
And that’s ultimately why What’s Past Is Prologue ends up as such a satisfying listen overall. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they’ve managed to focus all their energy on perfecting what they’ve already got, and the result is an exceptionally good emo album that might be a few shades away from being great, but has the passion and power to carry itself pretty far. It’s a lot like how Bear Your Mind was in that vein, serving as an approximation of a sound done right that really deserves to be revisited and praised more than it likely will be. Still, Free Throw have come back with another winner here, and that’s always great to see.
For fans of: Can’t Swim, The Wonder Years, Citizen
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘What’s Past Is Prologue’ by Free Throw is released on 29th March on Triple Crown Records.