Release Date: March 11, 2016
Label: Triple Crown
“I understand now that you can’t go from a record that has a chorus on every song [Proper], and then deliver a follow-up that has two choruses on the whole thing [Intersections] and expect people to warm to it immediately,” Into It. Over It. ingénieur Evan Weiss told us in January. “I think every song on the new one has a chorus.” That “new one” — called Standards, coming this week — is the third full-length from the outfit, which is essentially just Weiss and his touring band, though new drummer Josh Sparks played a big role in the LP’s initial ideation. Between that title and the promise of non-stop refrains, you’d think this would be IIOI’s go-for-it project, the album that saw them remove the “cult” from their “cult-rock heroes” descriptor, with an album of grand-scale emotions and widescreen musical ambition.
And, well… you’d be right. In the half-decade since releasing 2009’s 52 Weeks project (in which Weiss recorded a song a week for a year, releasing the entire assemblage on a two-disc set), Into It. Over It. grew into one of the most recognizable figures of the emo revival, which has since evolved and stabilized into “fourth-wave emo,” and by now, maybe just “modern rock.” Rolling Stone recently named 2013’s sophomore LP Intersections one of the 40 best emo albums of all time — the only such release from the 2010s to make the cut — but it’s hard to argue that Standards isn’t fuller, more-realized, and in many ways just straight-up better than its predecessor; the Bleed American to its Clarity. It’s the IIOI album that’s exactly what it intends to be.
Good thing, too, because it didn’t come easy. The story behind Standards feels cartoonish in its self-mythologizing — Weiss and Sparks trekked to a remote cabin in Vermont, “an hour from the nearest gas station, an hour from the nearest grocery store… no phone, no Internet,” for a month just to write the new album. Then, they hightailed to the other side of the country to record with renowned San Francisco producer John Vanderslice, who insisted the normally PC-prolific producer Weiss record only to tape. Catchy tune, but Standards doesn’t need it. The amount of isolated thought that went into the album is obvious from both the sweeping ebb and flow of the 12 tracks’ crystalline pacing and the lacerating specificity of the songwriting — Weiss lamenting his barely recognizable hometown friends in opener “Open Casket,” who “torch their 20s like it’s kerosene,” or summarizing the pratfalls of his scene (or his own writing) with “Blood as ink just prints as privilege” in “Adult Contempt.”
And just as importantly, the one-take energy that went into the album’s analog recording is evident from the level of performance Vanderslice gets from Weiss and his band. The addition of Sparks in particular opens up new dimensions to Into It. Over It.’s sound, whether he’s providing the gentle brushstrokes to give the snowy beds of ballads “Open Casket” and “Old Lace & Ivory” their base, or propelling rave-ups “Adult Contempt” and “No EQ” (the latter being maybe the first emo track to ever use a permutation of the “Amen” break) to warp speed with his frenetic stick-work. Tracks like “Required Reading” and “Vis Major” — which all but quotes the Hold Steady’s anthemic “Stuck Between Stations” in its guitar break — deploy a dynamism rarely heard before on IIOI albums, exploding and contracting on command, initially unpredictable but quickly comfortable.
Despite this, the record’s most stunning moment comes with Weiss essentially unaccompanied. “Your Lasting Image” is the panoramic centerpiece of Standards, featuring the singer/songwriter on a solo visit to the Grand Canyon, emotionally overcome by the moment and wailing over a languorous, eternally reverberating guitar riff: “I have the faintest recollection of us.” It’s the way Weiss leans into every single syllable of the line’s sentimental wallop, unafraid of capitalizing the “E” in the emo designations he’s long shrugged off, aware of how many Facebook statuses and Tumblr posts he’s inevitably populating with the lyric’s vague-but-devastating purpose. Death Cab for Cutie comparisons have plagued Into It. Over It’s YouTube comments since inception, but only now do they finally have their own “I need you so much closer.”
The press material for Standards points out that while the album shirks on the geographical references that dotted most of Weiss’ previous releases, the album is “so thoroughly Chicago” — where Weiss moved in ’08 before setting up IIOI operations — that it “exposes a breach in genre classification.” Uh, okay, but really, Standards sheds the “E-word” tag not by calling up Illinois but rather Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois, with which this LP shares an open-air curiosity, a shivering sonic majesty, and a sense of displacement and post-youth vulnerability that just about anyone can share some part of. The songs on this album may well become standards for fans at a certain place in life, but they definitely raise the standards for Into It. Over It. — as well as for anyone who actually still thinks emo needs help being revived.