Dead Sara occupies a strange space in music right now, at least for me.
I have never heard them on the radio, and when they venture to the east coast from their L.A. home, it always seems to be in smaller venues.
But I have trouble thinking of a band that more poignantly encapsulates my general sense of the world as a 29-year-old American. Their first two albums, 2012’s Dead Sara and 2015’s Pleasure to Meet You, provide nostalgia and newness in their sounds simultaneously.
Their new EP, Temporary Things Taking Up Space, has achieved the same.
I have yet to write anything of substance about Dead Sara, even though they’re one of my favorite bands, and I honestly think it’s because they’re music is very personal to me.
“Times to Remember” is reminiscent of 2015’s “Something Good”: its cautious hopefulness for the future is tempered by regret for the past.
“Said do you remember love / Do you remember all the good times now / Said I’m hoping forever as my best friend / These are times to remember and times to forgive”
That regret is not merely for the bad things that happened; it’s a longing for the things that were and never will be again.
The second song opens with an echoing and methodical sound, but Siouxsie Medley’s distorted guitar can still be heard as a melodic refrain. “Anybody” follows its predecessor as a search for belonging, even while the protagonist is wary of the pain that could come with rejection.
“Come on and touch me / Do I belong to anybody?”
“And if I had a heart I’d learn to bleed”
“Unamerican” is the hard-hitting punk banger that has been the hallmark of Dead Sara’s sound.
Despite its overtly political tone — “Well, fuck you Donald Trump” — “Unamerican” is a rebellion against society’s expectations.
“I wanna look like what they look like on the television / first thing when I wake up, no makeup”
The protagonist may have been searching for a sense of place, but they wound up giving a big F-You to everyone who forced them into the box they find themselves.
“I’m not your model citizen / No, I’m not your daughter and I’m not your bitch / Guess I’m unAmerican”
“What It Takes” continues the theme of cautious optimism, with the protagonist deciding to reach out to someone for that connection they’ve been craving: “It’s only gonna help babe if it’s all that I do”
“Hellbent on growing up, everything bottled up”
If most of Dead Sara’s songs imply a sort of generational reticence to accept the world they’ve inherited for what it is, then “One Day We’ll Make It Big” spells it out.
“Left a bad taste in my mouth / to say we’ve got it good / One day we’ll make it out”
The hook sounds like a promise for a young band to “make it big”, but it’s more of an escape plea.
The EP ends on another beat-driven stand against conventional wisdom.
“I’ve never been your perfect song, your favorite daughter / So I sit and dwell on all the things I know are wrong”
The protagonist comes from a generation that saw the idyllic world that was fed to them overturned, but they think they can survive anyway. It’s all they can do.
“It’s not your time to go and waste it”
Musically, Temporary Things Taking Up Space is lighter than previous albums. Dead Sara recorded the EP without a permanent bass player to take the place of Chris Null, who left the band in 2017.
The absence is notable, perhaps only because Null’s heavy riffs are not present to lift Dead Sara’s music into the hard rock space that their previous music occupied.
Or, perhaps they decided to use a lighter touch in their recording of this EP. Emily Armstrong’s pained vocals still carry the emotional weight of each song, and Medley’s guitar combined with Sean Friday’s chaotic-precision drums still lend a certain high-strung energy to their songs.
I prefer their previous sound a little more, but this album still resonates with me.
I’m not really interested in postulating about what Millennials think about the world as an entire generation of people. What I know is that these songs’ uncertainty with the world they were given, their wariness of pretty everyone except the people they know, and their over-caution-turned-reckless-abandon in relationships — people in my life very near to my age and I have experienced these things.
Maybe this how everyone feels when they shoulder the responsibilities of a society — or refuse to. Maybe this music is a little too idealistic about what was, a little too cynical about what is, and a little too nonchalant about what might be.
But so am I, at times, and that’s the point. I listen to Dead Sara, and I feel like we’re sharing our experiences together. That’s how the best music seeps into your soul.