January 26, 2010 - Loveway
Upon hearing the title track from Never Shout Never's What Is Love?, a random twentysomething dude on Twitter posted, "Dare I say, [it's] really good! I'm gonna go turn in my man card now." Sure, NSN--aka 18-year-old Christofer Drew--is building a career by accentuating so much positivity, it would make Bryce Avary down a couple bottles of cheap vodka and start taking swipes at fans with a car antenna he snapped off of a station wagon parked outside the venue at one of his gigs. Haters can hurl epithets toward Drew and NSN as much as they want, but the singer's sincerity simply cannot be denied. Critics lke to dismiss the contemporary emo/pop-punk scenes as one over-developed angst sponge, the clubhouse for young kids with guitars to whine, despite not having lived life yet. But nobody ever calls out the manufactured sunny dispositions of assembly-line pop inventions, choosing instead to dismiss any discussion with the standard line, "It is what it is." Hell, the Jonas Brothers are probably so fecking miserable, the catering staff in each city they play in might have to sign a non-disclosure contract in case they go backstage to drop off some hummus and walk in on the brothers complaining much their lives, ahem, "suck."
In the context of What Is Love?, Drew sounds like a dude who's living his life, making references to smokin' and tokin', as well as chattin' up girls. (Promise ring holders can suck it.) On "Jane Doe" (not the Converge song), he wrings every drop of blood out of the heart on his sleeve, as an accordion arrangement gives his mea culpa an unexpected flavor. The lack of a Telecaster plugged into a wall of Marshall stacks is the only thing that stops the jaunty "I Love You 5" from sounding like an obscure T. Rex B-side. Likewise, "California" liberally quotes melodic lines from Little Peggy March's 1963 hit, "I Will Follow Him," a bit unusual compared to the "copies of copies of copies" culture that AFI's Davey Havok was bemoaning in AP last year. If Michael Cera and Ellen Page covered "Can't Stand It" over the closing credits to Juno, Drew would have an indie-pop monument erected in his honor by the blogosphere, while Kimya Dawson would be hanging around outside Taco Bell dumpsters looking for a cup of burrito grease. On the title cut, Drew sounds like he's got Say Anything's Max Bemis on speed-dial, as he laments those who put devotion, care and tenderness on the back burner in lieu of material concerns. But it's the closing track, "The Past," where Drew puts it on the table, with an autobiographical reflection on growing up that's equal parts melancholy and bittersweet, as the tune flows from him and his guitar into a final huge production arrangement. It's an end that's both curious (dude, why the buzzkill) and fitting.
"So why only three-and-a-half stars?" you say. Why stop short of proclaiming Christofer Drew as the greatest thing to happen to music since the invention of the MP3 file? Because after the release of numerous indie EPs and now his major-label debut mini-album, he needs to give the world an honest-to-God full-length (Love's eight tracks run slightly less than 21 minutes) that thoroughly encapsulates all of the possibilities which are inevitably ricocheting in his head right this very second. While it is all good in the Never Shout Never camp, it's going to get better, faster than everyone thinks.