- I Don’t Like You
- Drivin’ Me Crazy
- Secrets Don’t Make Friends
- Oil & Water
- Be Mine Tonight
- Guilty, Guilty
- The One You’re Searching For
- It’s Not Me, It’s You
- The Root Of All Evil
For those who have buried their heads in the sand, popular opinion says that Tooth and Nail has had better days signing new bands. Most of the mainstays are gone now as well; Anberlin, The Classic Crime, mewithoutYou, and even Starflyer 59 have left the historically monumental mover-and-shaker of Christian music. In the wake of such preexisting notions was the controversial signing of Rocky Loves Emily, a five-piece pop-punk group from Detroit that puts the emphasis on the “pop.” Critics lambasted the signing as one of the worst offenses of the label yet, as RLE was just too silly and too immature. And now we’re here, a year and half past the initial signing, finally with a full length, and the result is……… not that bad.
It’s true, Secrets Don’t Make Friends is entirely immature and simple. It may very well be your stereotypical cheese drenched pop-punk album, but past this significant drawback, Secrets is, at a minimum, on par with the vast majority of Tooth and Nail’s recent debuts. The vocals are (mostly) unedited and without significant electronic adjustment, a possibility that could have quickly done RLE in. Secrets smartly keeps the absurdity to levels that have been successfully traversed by artists like, say, FM Static, making any argument against Tooth and Nail for “taking it too far this time” nearly moot. And really, once you comb past the negative hype and a bit of the excessive playfulness, Secrets is decent enough. While it may be a total cop-out to excuse a band for being trite by asserting that they never wanted to be more, Rocky Loves Emily can fall into this category for those who find such a distinction acceptable. The guitar work can be pretty solid sometimes, such as on second track “Drivin’ Me Crazy,” which features some tasteful Americana-style guitar soloing and abundant gang vocals. Secrets also intelligently keeps things upbeat for the vast majority of the album, avoiding the potential dud of an attempted “meaningful” ballad. “Dream” is the closest to this, and it is pretty cheesy, but it could have been a lot worse. For the most part, RLE has delivered a well-developed sound, regardless of the amount of other groups that have developed a very similar sound.
Brandon James Ellis’s vocals may be the hardest pill for some to stomach. His high-pitched, dare I say, sassy voice certainly brings to mind Bryce Avary of The Rocket Summer. Ellis is great for the band he plays in, however, in the same way Avary’s voice parallels The Rocket Summer. Secrets Don’t Make Friends makes use of your basic suburban high school storytelling lyricism, with ample pop culture references. There’s nothing thought provoking to be found, but for those who enjoy the silliness of FM Static, Hawk Nelson, and possibly even early Relient K, it’s hard to imagine RLE not hitting the same chord. I suppose it’s not really even too much of a stretch to call Secrets “focused;” it is consistent, both in quality and sound.
Overall: For listeners easily turned off by cheese, RLE is not going to be your cup of tea. But for those who can tolerate even just a little of it, Secrets Don’t Make Friends might be a pleasant surprise. Don’t expect an album-of-the-year dark horse, but it’s worth a listen. Give these guys credit; they’ve crafted an album better than many of their critics may have thought probable.
RILY: The Rocket Summer, FM Static, Run Kid Run, Stellar Kart, Hawk Nelson