Wherever there’s discussion of Into It. Over It. frontman Evan Weiss, the word “emo” lurks nearby waiting for someone to inevitably include it. Just this past year, Rolling Stone named IIOI’s sophomore album, Intersections (2013), one of the 40 greatest emo albums of all time (fun fact: Intersections is the only record from the 2010s included in this list). While this level of name and scene recognition is great for IIOI, no one wants to be pigeonholed. Cue IIOI’s third and latest album release.
Standards sees Weiss let loose creatively. After a productive writing experience in an isolated cabin, he decided to abandon digital recording in the studio for a more laid-back vibe. Compared to IIOI’s last works, where he reportedly engaged in perpetual attempts to improve each track, this change was much needed. Without the ability to tweak or micromanage the music, Weiss was able to “accept chaos in a way [he] couldn’t before,” he said in a conversation with Spin.
Notably, Standards contains both the slowest and fastest IIOI songs to date. This is only one way in which the album achieves new levels of wow-factor for IIOI. Weiss’ distorted guitar riffs are a little less eccentric than they were in Intersections, making room alongside Standards’ fuzzy tones and odd textures for the album’s unexpected star: percussion. The addition of drummer Josh Sparks to the project pushed IIOI in an exciting, fresh direction, as Sparks drives songs such as “Vis Major”, “Adult Contempt” and “Bible Black” with racing precision.
I just wish the lyrics were as strong as the instrumentation. The album has all the right intentions, paying no attention to predetermined standards for where it should go, but lyrically it feels a little forced. Weiss and Sparks resort to a few clichés in this album that I actually found distracting to my listening experience. For instance, Weiss conveys confusion regarding a certain “cryptic” someone who “changed the locks,” in the song “Closing Argument,” and actually uses the metaphor of being lost at sea, singing that his “mind’s an island” in “Old Lace & Ivory.” These concepts are too worn to do the album any favors. Additionally, where I’m usually emotionally affected by Weiss’ songwriting skills, there’s not as much for me to connect with in Standards. None of the songs have concrete interpretations (aside from a general sense of post-youth vulnerability), and the album as a whole has no lyrical theme. Admittedly, though, neither of these last two points are necessarily flaws. There are certainly listeners who enjoy the interpretive possibilities of vague lyrics and/or have an easier time relating to them.
If you’re a fan of the angst in previous IIOI works, don’t worry — Standards continues Weiss’ streak of shameless self-pity. The main attribute that sets this album apart from its predecessors is the apparent good time Weiss had making it. He said in an interview with Billboard that he’s more proud of the song “Anesthetic” in particular than anything he’s ever made; it’s the answer to the question, “How fast can you play it?” followed by, “How slow can you play it?”, trialed during their time away in the cabin. The positive experiences Weiss and Sparks had making Standards, and the resulting inviting energy the end product exudes, is a refreshing throwback to the sometimes-forgotten reason that bands should be making music: for the fun of it.