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Last year, I saw Boston-based indie-rock trio Pet Fox in a small space with fake cobwebs hanging from the low ceiling and Brooklynites dressed in colorful Halloween costumes. They had released their new EP Over all a few months ago; it was three patient, powerful tracks that paid attention to buildup and intoxicating basslines. I’ve listened to the songs, especially the addictive “Imagine Why”, on repeat since they were first released. My bulimia, however, took on a different meaning once I suffered a brutal breakup. The moving cries of Theo Hartlett, reiterating the vague but prophetic refrain “To know is to feel / Imagine why, imagine why”, became a point of solace for me. But as I walked away from my personal sadness, every melody and every line seemed to ring with pain, or at least the vivid memory of pain, so I took a step back.
When the group burst into “Imagine Why” in Bushwick in October, however, everyone was dancing in unity. It was an obvious party. Animals, superheroes and monsters were all moved by this poignant anthem that surrounded us like a force field. It was equally invigorating and protective. My friend was dressed as a raccoon, crouched on the ground to photograph the three limbs, which were visibly pushed by something larger than themselves, their instruments becoming an attachment to their body like limbs. The next day I put Over all again and I plunged back into her catharsis.
A face in your life is the third studio album by Pet Fox, following the self-titled albums from 2018 and 2019 rare opportunity. While their previous records were both self-produced, the band turned to New Alliance Audio’s Ethan Dussault for production on this new LP as well as Seth Engel for mixing, the latter known to have worked with some of the most popular bands. Chicago’s most interesting. like Ratboys, Retirement Party and more.
It is possible that this change contributed to the brilliance of A face in your life, which watches Pet Fox engage in bigger, more soulful songs than ever before, unafraid and trusting their shared instincts. It bursts with the cosmic energy I witnessed during their live show, evoking a range of emotions, like melancholy, ecstasy, security, understanding, and vehemence. Everything she arouses is serious and deep like a wound or a first love. Much of this comes from the rich soundscapes; Hartlett and Morgan Luzzi are also part of prolific and cult shoegaze band Ovlov, with Luzzi also having a history in indie-rock band Palehound, while drummer Jesse Weiss is part of idiosyncratic post-punk band Grass Is Green. What I’m saying here is that Pet Fox is the perfect storm.
Every track on A face in your life contains compelling instrumental work and is textured with comforting familiarity. The opener “Settle Even” is one of the quieter songs, lingering in a wavering, mostly downtrodden sound, like a placid body of water – that is, until the smashing and all-consuming guitar solos take over, sending an undulating current. “Only Warning,” the next song, picks up the pace with its overwhelming urgency that peaks throughout the four minutes and turns into a colossal, chaotic blizzard. Hartlett’s hypnotic harmonies make it all the more magnetic; his last words are his repetition of the phrase: “Only warning / only want”, another murky but visceral mantra. It’s a mind-blowing second track whose repetitive scintillating riffs are reminiscent of the start of Interpol. Turn on the bright lights except three times faster. “Undeserving You”, which comes much later, also exemplifies the band’s talent for building momentum; after retaining their greatest energy for about two minutes, they deliver a frenzied thrust that serves as a satisfying reward.
“While it may seem incredibly simplified,” the band said in the press release, “we really come together and play off each other’s ideas, whether preconceived or pieced together in the moment.” This spontaneous alchemy is at the forefront of these songs; not only does Pet Fox’s music create a sense of unity in its listeners, but it exists in all three players. “Checked Out” has a playful vibe with its wayward riffs and frivolous Hartlett vocals, and “Hesitate” haunts with its brooding bassline and patient drumming. It helps that the band cites both Weezer and Autolux as influences; it sums up their simultaneous ability to have vibrant personalities and shred in a blue scrapbook sort of, while also dealing with the atmospheric and vulnerable walls of sound in a perfect future fashion.
The “Slows Me Down” finale, like the opener, finds power in delicacy, meandering slowly as Hartlett offers pithy contemplations, “Going back to my old ways, not what I prefer / I’m still fighting to be heard. ” The line matches the sentiment of the album cover – an outstretched arm underwater, trying to get someone’s attention. His voice is tired but serious, and not completely desperate as he continues, “Aiming for something better than this / Everything can’t be wrong, I find it slows me down.”
No Pet Fox song is too depressing or too happy; I didn’t know “Checked Out” was an anti-capitalist track about people who “don’t care about you until they realize you hold some kind of value that’s valuable or cool to them” until what I read their statement about it. I still don’t know exactly what the line “Knowing is feeling / Imagining why, imagining why” from “Imagining why” means, but I don’t need it to feel its vastness. In fact, the abstractness of the words makes them resonate even more. They never push any kind of story or meaning – they just guide the listener into a place of feeling. It’s about fighting to be heard, but not about dictating exactly what the interpretation will be. It’s therapeutic and necessary to have music that allows that. Pet Fox doesn’t just want you to listen to them, they want you to listen to yourself.