Some say success is harder than failure. Those faced with the prospect of meeting (or even exceeding) new expectations may find the resulting stress bleeding into the results. For Caleb Haynes, progenitor of emo-based genre-defiers Hey, ily, a follow up to 2020’s Internet Breath meant taking the project to a new level of seriousness. Now, as a five-piece, the band has both the capacity to tour beyond Haynes’ Montana-based origins and the ability to prove that their breakthrough EP was not a fluke.
Psychokinetic Love Songs, though markedly different, accomplishes that goal. The group’s debut LP takes what lifted Internet Breath – namely, that stylistic nexus where Dogleg meets Anamanaguchi – and stretches it in fuller, more volatile ways. The biggest difference comes in how the record feels much more analog than its bit crushed predecessor. It’s clear the project is a band now; the drums and guitars don’t feel anywhere near as programmed, while Haynes’ voice comes across clearer than ever. Opening track “Rebooting” might be all chiptune, but it’s a red herring of sorts – the nerve-jolting strums kicking off “Intrusive Thoughts Always” are more representative of what follows.
The change might cause a shock to the senses at first, especially considering how, in the heat of the live recording, some parts do feel rhythmically rougher than others. It’s a courageous decision to commit to a live sound and allow the less polished parts of your artistry to come out. Between the twin jams of “Machine?” with its familiar drum programming and the uptempo punk of “Human!”, it almost comes across as a meta joke. Of course, that allows moments like the pulse-quickening breakdown on the former and the guitar solo on the latter to really stand out. Taking such a risk allows Psychokinetic Love Songs to document higher highs for Hey, ily than ever.
♫ Of course I trust you, but I’ll still read your mind/how would I know you love me without my PSI?
When the approach works completely, it takes the project to all the places you imagined it going. “Stress Headache” mixes a new-wave bounce a la The Cars with a soaring chorus and a grab-bag of goofy touches. “Psychokinetic Love Song” starts in third gear before veering into bossa nova territory, while its second half showcases Haynes’ distorted yelps over what feels like a screwed-down version of Madonna’s “Holiday.” The record’s most pleasant surprise arrives in at its end, as “Shutting Down” transitions from a bookend to a triumph through a fiery drum breakdown smeared with colorful synth textures.
That song highlights another enduring quality of Hey, ily’s music: its unpredictability. Here, as on previous works, the project defies categorization. It’s obviously influenced by emo both lyrically and melodically – those guitar chords are too easy to trace – and the transition into primarily-live instrumentation arguably leans the project farther in that direction than before.
But even then the band keeps a certain adventurousness alive by switching up dynamics, tempos, and even instruments mid song. A full heavenly choir functioning as a bridge? Sure! A mild, dioramic instrumental smack dab in the middle like a checkpoint? Why not? Elsewhere you’ll come across a track like “The Tempest,” a theatrical solo piano performance coated in reverb, and find it fits naturally into the mix.
Overall, Psychokinetic Love Songs posits Hey, ily as a full-fledged (if still scrappy) gang of underdogs willing to push emo into borderless places. Those expecting an extension of Internet Breath’s “Nintendo-core” aesthetic may blanch at first upon hearing the relative normalcy of rushing guitars and pounding drums, but what’s here is unquestionably laudable in its own right.
Besides, it’s all part of the necessary process of moving a project out of the bedroom and into the venue – or, more aptly, out of the virtual and into reality.