Album: Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year
Author’s Note: As the story behind Kaonashi’s ‘Why Did You Do It?’ continues to evolve through ‘Dear Lemon House…,’ I won’t be revealing any spoilers as to the “plot” out of respect for the band and for the listener to experience these developments as they occur in the record for the first time.
The year is two thousand…something. 2008? 2009? It doesn’t really matter. It’s 6:10 in the morning and your alarm went off, you awake a chaotic mix of anxiety and excitement. The good: it’s Friday, and there’s a show tonight. The bad: it’s Friday, which means school comes first. You shower quick, throw on some black skinny jeans and a band shirt that won’t get you in trouble with your more conservative teachers before walking to the bus stop. School passes by, and you survive, keeping your head down with the single goal of being as unremarkable as you can be until ding ding ding! It’s 3:15, and you go home where your day really begins. Maybe you take a flatiron to your hair or throw on some make-up—at the very least, you have to change. Your pants? Skin tight. Shirt? Barely fits. Belt? White, studded and angled with the buckle over your left hip. Insecurities? Oh, still there, but stifled by the excitement of seeing a handful of bands from three states away with your friends and (maybe) 50 other people you know through a common sense of camaraderie in a crowded, smoke-filled venue the size of your grandmother’s living room. It’s two thousand something and things are…well, they’re okay, but in that moment, they feel great.
That’s kind of what it feels like to hit play on Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year (Dear Lemon House for short), the debut full length record by Pennsylvania’s premiere emotional mathcore (?) export, Kaonashi. In a sentence, Dear Lemon House is exactly what my playlist would be on my MySpace profile back then or right now. In more than a sentence, there is nothing like Dear Lemon House. Kaonashi and their figurative cast (Jamie B. Moore, Morgan Montgomery, Taylor Oxford, The Counselor and the infamous Casey) capture the distilled essence of high school—from the soaring highs to the bitter lows—in a near-hour-long journey through raunchy aggression, ethereal and moody atmosphere and catchy, sassy groove. Blending elements of contemporary progressive rock and metal with nostalgic emo, post-hardcore and mathcore, Kaonashi have created a true masterpiece of modern music and storytelling—because while Lemon House might have ruined Jamie and their compatriots, it has brought heavy music a new and immersive sound and style.
It would be easy to put Kaonashi in the nostalgia-driven “throwback” pile when it comes to how best categorize their sound, but it would also be incomplete and inaccurate. Where Why Did You Do It? and their previous releases have capitalized on blending metalcore in with spazzy math-rock and post-hardcore elements to create appealing heaviness with an artsy flair, Dear Lemon House doesn’t follow in those same footsteps. Yes, Kaonashi still get heavy. Yes, Kaonashi are still…well, weird. However, Kaonashi are more than those two elements, and Dear Lemon House is an exceptional display of that. On songs like “Broad Street (Take Me Home)” and “Recipe for a Meaningful Life,” the band blend in ambient post-rock elements perfectly, with moments of breath-taking serenity and calm. Percussionist Ryan Paolilli incorporates plentiful jazz and neoclassical percussion components into his otherwise rambunctious metalcore backbone to create a sense of ethereality, especially towards the close of “Broad Street (Take Me Home).” Here, his work is beautifully accentuated by guitarists Roger Alvarez and Alex Hallquist, whose clean tones and minimalist approach make the song feel airy and light while still packing substance. On the other end of Kaonashi’s spectrum, “Run Away Jay” and “The Underdog I: Blue Pop” feel hefty, as does “Fuck Temple University” and the ominous opening cut “T.A.Y.L.O.R.” These songs see Paolilli returning to form, with hammering kick drum hits contrasting bright cymbals and an explosive snare. “T.A.Y.L.O.R.” sees bassist August Axcelson dominating the haunting conclusion with a monstrous, looming bass—while “Fuck Temple University” and “Market Street (Chardonnay, Diamonds & Me)” see funkier playing with a faster cadence that lends heft to the band’s off-the-wall and unpredictable tempo and tone changes. Where each song brings a different balance between heaviness and carefully orchestrated chaos, the instrumentation matches the story of the song perfectly, with the most jarring, relentless and spastic sections often imparting some of the Lemon House High kids’ most critical junctures.
When it comes to Kaonashi, where they’ve garnered the most criticism is through the highly polarized opinion of frontman Peter Rono’s vocals. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t always a fan—but in the time between Ex-Prayers, Never Home and Why Did You Do It? I became enthralled. Instead of trying to palliate those put off by Rono’s shrill screams, Kaonashi collectively double down on Rono’s unique style with an astounding result. Vocally, Dear Lemon House is diverse, especially in its broadened inclusion of various types of singing. This is as true in lead single “An Evening of Moving Pictures With Scooter Corkle” as it is in the acoustic ballad “The Underdog II: Fight on the 40 Yard Line, What’s That in Kilometers?” Furthermore, the widespread incorporation of singing in various forms throughout Dear Lemon House adds variety to accentuate both instrumental segues and pivotal portions in the record’s compelling plot.
Without detracting from Rono’s vocal performance—which is incredible—the most jaw-dropping element to Kaonashi’s Dear Lemon House is without a doubt the lyrics and themes abundant throughout the record. In a previous interview, the band made it well known that Dear Lemon House was a companion piece to Why Did You Do It? that serves to explain the events and circumstances that define the band’s androgynous protagonist, Jamie B. Moore. From befriending Taylor Oxford in “T.A.Y.L.O.R.” to the highs and lows of Jamie’s relationship with Casey in “An Evening of Moving Pictures…” and “The Underdog I: Blue Pop” and, of course, a figurative sequel to “Real Leather” on “The Counselor’s Office: A Present Example of Past Procrastinations.” All of these songs explore Jamie’s psyche and daily life—and, by extrapolation, explore different elements of the human condition when it comes to the ferocity and intensity of growing up in America. There are many portions of Dear Lemon House that just about anyone listening to the record can relate to—we’ve all been heartbroken, and we’ve all been the weird kid in the class wearing Meshuggah or Roseblood shirts—but Rono’s lyricism transcends that. Even the portions that I can’t personally relate to—the difficulties and frustration of, frankly, being both black and depressed within African American culture (as explored on “Run Away Jay”) or the characters’ violent family dynamic (explored throughout Dear Lemon House)—those things that the listener may not know by first hand experience can still be felt through Rono’s use of foils and cunning lyricism. In that way, Dear Lemon House is both conceptually brilliant while still feeling immersive and devastatingly real.
I could write another three pages—fuck it, I could write a dissertation—on why Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year is an immaculate record, but if you’ve made it this far alone you deserve a medal, so I won’t keep beating a dying horse. The record’s instrumentation is a flawless amalgam of rosy, nostalgic hues of metal-and-mathcore against riveting, new and experimental progressive and post-hardcore elements. The record’s vocals are unrelenting, with every song featuring belted lines that live in the listener’s head for days or a soaring chorus that transcends the metalcore heavy/soft cliché. Lyrically, Dear Lemon House is flawless, and the twists and turns that Jamie et al endure are sure to keep the listener engaged until the closing milliseconds of “The Underdog III: Exit Pt. IV (A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy).” The truth is that there really isn’t another band out there like Kaonashi: they continue to keep the sharp, fashionable wit of a MySpace top-eight band while being unafraid to progress into previously unexplored corners of the genres that serve as their foundation—and all they ask of you is simply to listen.
For Fans Of: The Fall of Troy, Coheed & Cambria, Cryptodira, animated MySpace layouts, everyday tragedies, being forgotten, getting left behind, Going through the motions without making a sound, being the underdog.
By: Connor Welsh