Growing up in a small beach town meant spending a whole lot of time smoking weed in a parked car by the bay. I remember being seventeen and riding in the backseat of a friend’s car as we pulled up to watch the sunset over the ocean, the smell of the sea mingling with the sweetness of the smoke. On those nights, there was almost always an eclectic playlist shuffling through tracks by emo synthpoppers like Hellogoodbye and angsty Man Overboard songs; the perfect soundtrack for some teenage South Jersey ennui.
You could have slipped any song from Oldphone’s debut album, Not Anymore., into those playlists and it would have fit right in. The endearing DIY synths, honest heartfelt lyrics, and pop sensibilities on this release are essentially a distillation of all my favorite music as a teenager.
That’s not to say the release is immature or outdated. Not Anymore. taps into a very specific nostalgia that’s bound to resonate with former scene kids like myself, but what’s truly gripping is the way it approaches this nostalgia. It’s not cheaply cashing in on beloved old sounds or rehashing juvenilia – no, the album genuinely feels like it’s tapping into buried emotions and bringing them into a new light.
Immediately, the album transported me back to those adolescent days, and I realized that deep down, everything I felt in high school was still lurking somewhere inside me, for better or for worse. Not Anymore. is about the hidden emotions that linger within us for years, and about the process of unearthing those feelings so that you can move forward with your life.
Gregory Johnson, the musician behind Oldphone, explained in a statement that the album is “all about the things I don’t want to do anymore.” It’s an interesting subversion of nostalgia – oftentimes, media that plays into nostalgia paints the past in a rosy tint and chooses to revel in the positives and ignore the negatives. Here, Johnson does the opposite, using the sounds of the past to reconstruct their own brighter future.
The entire release is awash with a certain playfulness – the overall aesthetic is this blend of hyperpop and emo (a combination Johnson dubs HyperEmo), bringing an interesting dynamic of artificiality and raw honesty to its sound. Vulnerable lines like “Please say you love me, it’ll all be okay” are delivered with layers and layers of modulation, creating a dissonance between showcasing scary emotions while also burying it under a sonic mask. Sometimes, that’s the only way you can be real, right? In a way, the vocal effects make it all the more honest.
The various effects on the vocals heighten the emotions and give them an almost melodramatic theatricality – but the analog sounds of emo guitars and gentle drumming help keep everything grounded. On “Restless,” we hear a robotic vibrato on backing vocals paired with a more ethereal vocal track, all blending with shimmering guitars. This distinct combination of sounds washes over the listener with a dreamy warmth.
Another standout is “Concrete,” featuring Superdestroyer. About half of the songs on this album are under two minutes, with this track being just under a minute and thirty seconds. It injects concentrated emotion into a short runtime, opening with a deceptively delicate guitar before speeding up the beat and introducing the brutal repeating line, “I was trying to destroy myself and honestly, I think that I did.”
Of course, it’s also worth noting that Oldphone is a master of the infectious hook. “Aries Szn,” featuring Sam Nazz and Eichlers, is the best kind of earworm – that chorus of “Oooh, I’ll never change my attitude, catch me if you can, an Aries with a master plan” is bound to lodge itself into your mind.
The final trio of tracks are reflective and perfectly wrap up the album. “broken brain” describes the shift that takes place when you start taking antidepressants and the way it can recolor your entire life up until that point. The final track is a declaration of change, fittingly titled “Not anymore.”
But the most revelatory moment in the album comes on the penultimate track, “Mood: nothing matters.” For the first time, the vocal track is free of any sort of electronic effects, and Johnson muses: “Every time in my life where I think I’m doing better in some degrees, I regress in some others. But after all these years, I’m starting to think that this might be what life is – we live, we learn, we grow, and we forget.” Right after, the guitar speeds up and an off-kilter keyboard chimes in, as if the instruments themselves are freaking out and responding directly to that truth.