The late 90s and early 00s saw the rise of a little label called Vagrant that churned out band after band and release after release of tuneful, essentially, power pop that took elements of emo, punk, and guitar-driven pop, mixing them together in a way that proved irresistible to many a sensitive punk who wanted something else to latch onto. Somewhere in the territory between “easycore” and Get Up Kids-style emo, the label launched careers for bands who arguably deserved a little longer in the spotlight than they received. By the time a second wave of soundalike bands emerged, the public’s appetite for such had largely subsided or moved on as did a number of the progenitors of it.
Nearly a decade after this waning of tastes we’re seeing a small renaissance of the style that has recast many of these primary bands such as the Get Up Kids (and their offshoots, the New Amsterdams and Reggie and the Full Effect), The Anniversary, Saves the Day, Hot Rod Circuit, and Hey Mercedes (themselves an offshoot of influential Midwest emo band, Braid) in roles of reunion acts and otherwise revived careers. With that in play, we’re also seeing new bands take up the style in an earnest attempt to recreate, if not add something new.
It’s unsurprising then that a group of seasoned musicians from acts such as La Dispute, Pet Symmetry, Dowsing, Annabel, Droughts, What Gives, and Lettering would get together across the not-so-long distance between Chicago and Grand Rapids, MI to bring us Mush and their EP, Protect Your Brand. In a novel approach, the band combine the release with a card game because what says bespectacled nerdistry more than the oddball card-driven genre of gaming that has seen a rise in popularity? But really, we’re here for the music and what lies in the succinct package is a solid entry into this field.
What transpires over the course of four songs and roughly 10 minutes is a love note to all of the above bands as they shift effortlessly between the individual elements of their inspiration. The band have released this on cassette and digitally but it feels very much like a perfect 7” record that one would repeatedly flip in an attempt to grab the saccharine sugar rush of each track. “You Can Call Me, L” perfectly sums up their particular throwback mimicry with a song that could have just as easily been written by Matt Pryor and the brothers Pope. The energetic spasms and drumming that drive the all-too-brief “Rings of Age” recall elements of a number of bands and is really best served as a bit of micro-genre worship, in the best way.
It’s difficult to pick out one “best track” here partly for its brevity but also because of the overall consistency between songs. The production is done so evenly that it’s difficult to not pick out one strand to follow through each listen and then another on a subsequent quick trip through this abject lesson in Midwest emo-pop. If this is your jam you’ll know it immediately. Basically, if you still rock thick-framed glasses and a high-fade, pomade-laden haircut with Chucks whilst thinking plaintively about the one that got away and the fun of summers past then you should absolutely check out Mush’s Protect Your Brand, aptly titled as they seem poised to do just that for a style that has nearly disappeared. This might not push the great comeback for those glistening, sugar-y sweet riffs and slightly melancholic lyrics but it will certainly remind you why you liked it all those years ago.
Protect Your Brand can be purchased now from the band’s Bandcamp page here.