ALBUM REVIEW: Proper. – ‘The Great American Novel’

Purple, tentacle-like plants hanging down, with a gold outline around them and their leaves

There will not be an emo band to make as profound an impact as Proper. will this year. An almost ludicrously confident statement, yes, but one that’s also fully backed up. They’ve already been making significant waves for a prescience and intricacy that cuts a lot deeper in a genre founded on its emotional honesty, but an album like The Great American Novel just radiates confidence, a hallmark of a band who feel they’ve got a lot to prove, and are hitting every target to do so. There’s the same spark of electricity here that came on something like Spanish Love Songs’ Brave Faces Everyone, in the vein of topshelf emo that’s willing to drill in deeper than a lot of its counterparts, and that’s such a formative notion within Proper. and how this album is assembled. As a multi-gendered, entirely queer and non-white band, there’s perspective there that carries so much weight in criticising the American values that such a title might extol. The capitalist system blocks so many avenues for an independent band to make a living on Shuck & Jive, where the weight it piles on feels inescapably crushing on Ganymede. Meanwhile, there’s pride and value placed upon blind patriotism and the police and military complexes, instilled by those who won’t abide by it themselves on McConnell. When that all culminates in Americana it feels especially cutting, as a final note on a culture of toil and abuse propagated by those in power and sold as ‘the American dream’, but also one of discrimination, where immigrants searching for their own freedom are held down by their ‘otherness’ on Jean, to where vocalist Erik Garlington will distance himself from his own Mexican heritage as a means of assimilating on Huerta. It’s all so concisely and immaculately woven, and having the prevailing emotion be exhaustion and burnout rather than anger is where Proper. really strike gold. It’s acknowledged on the closer Yeah… I’m Good that there’s no solution to hand and the only way to get by is to muddle through and plod along, encapsulated by how weary Garlington’s vocals feel throughout and how much more pathos that wrings out.

On top of that, The Great American Novel is just such a rewarding album musically. There’s rarely an explicit catchiness to it—the closest it comes is on Jean with the tremendous gallop akin to latter-day Wonder Years—but that’s because Proper. deal a lot more in intricacies and detail. There’s an excellent scale of tension to be brought from the shades of charcoal and slate that comprise the album, whether that’s the comparatively sparser builds of Ganymede or Milk And Honey and their gradual, deliberate unfurling, or the chaotic patches of McConnell and Done Talking that represent some of its clearest bleakness. It’s one of those albums that can justify a longer-than-normal runtime for those reasons; it’s hardly that expansively long as it is, but the density of the ideas keep that held firmly throughout. Standout performances might be few and far between, but that’s only because Proper.’s three members have such self-evident chemistry within their own tapestry. Plus, in this sort of emo, the warmth of the guitars and bass and earthen rhythms kept by the drums feel so ingrained in what makes the sound ground, losing none of their luster and continuing to impress wherever they show. The Great American Novel isn’t devoid of its own production touches (see the pitched-up narrative voice on In The Van Somewhre Outside Of Birmingham or the clicking percussion flourishes on Yeah… I’m Good), but it’s most reliant on the honesty and lack of intrusiveness that any element has within that. Even compared to other emo in its field, The Great American Novel bears a resonance that keeps going the deeper it gets, and that’s the clearest sign of Proper. punching above their perceived weight class that you can get. This is the sort of album that births scene superstars, with the exemplary poetry, composition and style to cross over into cult classic status.


For fans of: The Wonder Years, Spanish Love Songs, Nervus

‘The Great American Novel’ by Proper. is released on 25th March on Big Scary Monsters.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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