Regardless of how any Hot Mulligan album turns out, immediate points need to be given to them for making the conscious effort to stand out. For a band that can slot comfortably in both pop-punk and Midwest emo – two scenes notorious for bands resting on their laurels and expecting genre inertia to carry them far across the finish line – there’s actually a solid amount of creativity that’s been obtained from mashing the two together, and that’s frequently been the big selling point of Hot Mulligan’s sound. The earworm melodies are prominent, but with the added layering and Nathan Sanville’s emotionally unchained vocal style, there’s always been a far healthier vein of creativity here than with many of the breakout names in both scenes that Hot Mulligan have drawn from. It’s why it’s always made sense for them to inhabit the smaller but more tightly-knit emo circles that prioritise that sweetness and progressive sensibility over hitting the heights of superstardom, and given that Hot Mulligan’s debut Pilot still stands as a hidden gem for those in the know, there’s ample footing for them to do a lot with where they are.
That in itself is a pretty useful boon to have, especially when in the far wider context of pop-punk and emo, You’ll Be Fine really isn’t all that different as far as intentions and ideas go. The process of putting self-imposed flaws and worries under a microscope is still adhered to unfalteringly, and for as often as that same throughline can come across as going through the motions, there’s a bit more fire and flavour to the way Hot Mulligan tackle it. The key components have barely been touched and that does hold You’ll Be Fine back from being quite as good as Pilot was, but the knack for extra creativity and simply doing more than the bare minimum with what they have inherently grants some more longevity and likability.
And after all, it’s not like Hot Mulligan need to do much more. Even when they’re at their most conventionally emo-sounding like on *Equip Sunglasses* or Green Squirrel In Pretty Bad Shape, there’s a sepia-toned warmth and richness that, with a mid-paced tempo that opens up in just the right ways, hits the right melodic beats in a way that culminates truly satisfyingly. You’ll Be Fine has the sort of tension and underlying ruggedness that’s so often a credit to emo and it’s no exception here; even if the fiddlier twinkles have been cut back slightly (though they still work, as evidenced by the opener OG Bule Sky), the sensibilities of Midwest emo haven’t left, particularly on a track like Digging In which has just the right amount of ebb and flow to formulate the moments of explosiveness that want to be highlighted. It’s less the case with SPS and its jittery programmed percussion that lacks any of the necessary body or organic quality of the rest of the album; it’s the only instance of this being used, and it’s rather confusing as to why. Elsewhere, Hot Mulligan can make a very traditional brand of emo continue to sound good by bending it ever so slightly in more interesting ways, and on a pretty short listen that breezes by pretty quickly, there’s a good deal of effectiveness there.
Where the majority of changes emblematic of Hot Mulligan come in is in the writing and the delivery, more so in the case of the latter. Yes, it’s easy to acknowledge that Sanville’s habit of drifting into throat-scraping screams over a sound this innocuously melodic as this can be a bit overbearing (there’s presumably inspiration from The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell in there but there’s more connective tissue there than here), but in extracting every last drop of emotion from what could be a rather rote collection of emo songs coming from a lesser act, it’s a potent tactic pretty much whenever it’s used. Even away from a song like Digging In where the natural weight of the boiling anger of knowing a friend’s rapist and having to live with that fact becomes exacerbated multiple times over, there’s a lot more that Hot Mulligan can get out from some pretty common themes. Feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth plague Green Squirrel In Pretty Bad Shape and Dirty Office Bongos, as does the melancholy that comes with loved ones moving on to new things on Analog Fade (New Bule Sky) and We’re Gonna Make It To Kilby!, all delivered with emotional vigour that feels genuine, even among topics that are undeniably overplayed. Even BCKYRD, the expected throwback to childhood innocence where adulthood seems like a far-flung inevitability where everything comes together and makes sense, does pull its weight on the whole (albeit a bit less effectively thanks to how specifically predicatable its subject matter is), and rather than just being another emo album, You’ll Be Fine is given the drive to move ahead into something a bit more long-lasting and real.
Of course, that’s all relative; Hot Mulligan haven’t come out with a genre-defining opus as much as a timely update and shift that gives the usual tropes a more impactful coat of paint. And honestly, that’s generally enough, especially when You’ll Be Fine can consistently keep up an emotional core that’s so much more real and an instrumental canvas that directly benefits it without sacrificing its overall melodiousness. That sounds simple, but when a lot of emo can’t even muster that to a reasonable degree, it’s certainly worth praising a band who can, and Hot Mulligan’s conviction to it all really does shine through across the board. Perhaps a little more refinement is required to reach the colossal heights they’re capable of hitting, but that’s not really fixing a flaw as much as making an already robust formula even stronger.
For fans of: Free Throw, Dryjacket, The Hotelier
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘You’ll Be Fine’ by Hot Mulligan is out now on No Sleep Records.