To think about Love Is All’s new record, A Hundred Things Keep Me up at Night, historically, you have to start by thinking about surf music and how hard it fell out of favor after the post-rock school’s clean and self-assuredly minimally referential style came to dominate indie rockdom. Surf music, like rockabilly, acquired a deadly generational stamp – another form of exotica that stank of pre-Internet taste ghettoes and unironically polyester clothing. This shovelful of excavation should be enough to allow me to say that while A Hundred Things Keep Me up at Night is not surf or rockabilly or punk per se, it manages to gather up a lot of loose ends from those genres while finding a lot of them to be live wires. The five folks that make up the Gothenburg, Sweden-based band – Nicholaus Sparding, Josephine Olausson, James Ausfahrt, Markus Görsch, and Johan Lindwall – have a finely tuned attention to their songs’ energy. The squalling sax that wends its way through most of these tracks and Josephine’s joyful, yet solidly unsettled yelps temporarily brings to mind a more professional and spacious Mika Miko, but that similarity mostly traces back to a common debt owed to Kleenex/LiLiPUT – all three bands make the ennui and alienation of second adolescence both incredibly vivid and, strangely, a lot of fun.
Although there’s something gleefully rickety in the way the album’s songs play out, there’s never a real sense of danger at the possibility of things falling apart. Even on a song like “Sea Sick” – a chronicle of booze cruise misery and the album’s most dynamic song, tempo-wise – Olausson’s voice may curdle with an ever-growing sense of malaise (“I had more teriyaki than I could bear”), but the band itself has too good a sense of direction to let things lose any forward momentum. For other listeners, the following track, “Wishing Well,” might be the album’s zero-degree: despite all the Flying Nun rips going chez Crystal Stilts and their ilk, the band’s bold appropriation and rounding out of the organ line from the Clean’s “Tally Ho” might strike some as too obvious. Others might recognize, however, that the band manages to work it into one of the album’s most concentrated tracks. While most of the album bangs along at a similar pogo-friendly pace, the two tracks that slow things down bear special mention: the quasi-ballads “When Giants Fall” and “A More Uncertain Future.”
The former, with its epic, ascending gutwrench guitar and constant refrain, “These hills just don’t compare / to the ones you left out there,” is a beautifully confusing moment: Is it the band in Scandi homesick mode, or is it just the opposite, imagining a geography worthy of the sentiment? “A More Uncertain Future,” on the other hand, spells out the sentiments that the rest of the album just hints at: a call-and-response dramatization of the canonical prodigal boyfriend story. The song and story never reach a climax, remaining instead in that tense zone between long-term relationships and just dating; between longing and vulnerability on the one hand and comfort and callousness on the other. It would be a stretch to claim that that in-betweenness stands for the album as a whole, though, because the album’s too smart to think in binaries. Like most people in their 20s from a certain demographic, the band’s focus is on letting feeling seep through both the grimness of the adult world and the comfy fantasy of academia. Their apparent lack of fear in tackling such a big, slippery goal is as impressive and moving as the music.