I dove into my first listen of Spanish Love Songs' Schmaltz with a suspicion that I was predisposed to enjoy it. The going comparisons for the album were to The Menzingers, Hot Water Music, and other bands of that gruff pop-punk ilk. Right up my alley, in terms of music I've enjoyed for the last decade-ish.
But many bands putting out music that has been up my historical alley have failed with more regularity lately, in terms of my own enjoyment. Rarely does a pop-punk record come around that really impresses me, or has significant lasting value, let alone a debut. To boot, what was I going to gain from a band trying to reboot Chamberlain Waits when I've been latched onto The Menzingers' After the Party for the past year? It's not that I've moved on from double-time punk songs, but that as I'm getting older, I'm keeping up with the bands who grow with me.
My first couple listens of Schmaltz had me in that exact mindset -- it's a fun album, but I'll only listen to this a handful of times. It reminded me of listening to Modern Baseball's Sports, a record I enjoyed a good amount, but one I knew I would have loved if it had come out at the same time I was listening to The Wonder Years' The Upsides. That experience with Sports lead me to think that my 23-ish-year-old self was on the back end of being able to start at or near the beginning with a band like Modern Baseball then, or a band like Spanish Love Songs today. I'll skip those first LPs more and more often now, I thought, and wait for those bands to find their good stuff before I tune in.
Schmaltz has enough promise on first listen to not be tossed away, at minimum, so I thought Spanish Love Songs would become one of those groups that I'd mentally note to tune back into for a follow-up album in two years or so. Two of the tracks here, "Buffalo Buffalo" and "The Boy Considers His Haircut," were previously released on an EP, and their inclusion here is essential. I now consider this record to be filled with earworms, but those two songs, along with "Otis / Carl," are what got me to go back for a third listen.
Then I discovered that "Bellyache" and "Joana, In Five Acts" were also quite strong. Then the mini-reprisal of "Bellyache" in "It's Not Interesting" revealed itself, and the dancing guitar lead on "Sequels, Remakes, & Adaptations" wouldn't leave in my head. And by my tenth or twelfth listen over the course of two days, I texted the band's publicist, my friend and Bad Timing Records co-conspirator Emily Hakes, with this one-liner that I expect to be printed onto a sticker for this LP's distro reissue, if any labels still bother with those types of stickers: "It's like a tasty snack in the kitchen at work which I know I should probably limit myself to a maximum of eating once per day but I wind up eating one every 2-3 hours."
I returned to Schmaltz with regularity, and despite the influences it wears all over its sleeve, I continued to find little niches that stuck out in their own right. There are these little pockets littered throughout where the songwriting graduates from ripping off faves to something indicative of a more expansive future sound. The underused keys throughout the album shine on "El Niño Considers His Failures," a surprising thought for me listening to a pop-punk band in 2018. Good use of keys. We've all come a long way since "Let's Moshercise!!!," at the very least. The bridge / outro comprising the last minute and a half of "Joana, In Five Acts" is Menzingersian at its core, but done with an audible amount of heart, like hearing a guitar vomit its earnestness over cracked basement show vocals.
So, I went to the basement of Brooklyn Bazaar to hear Dylan Slocum's cracked vocals for myself, and watched this five-piece from Los Angeles play to a small but enthusiastic group of people in Greenpoint. It reminded me of watching The Menzingers play at The Atlantic in Gainesville, the type of show where distortion becomes an important instrument and where an intimate crowd can feel quite powerful. "Buffalo Buffalo" is a straightforward hit of a pop-punk track, and would have been fawned over in the early 2010s, and the crowd fueled its massive chorus: "Would you meet me in the middle? Would you meet me north of Buffalo? Escape into the the winter where no one wants to ever go." During the desperate bridge in "The Boy Considers His Haircut," there were multiple people who had clearly waited all day to belt, "I don’t want to be depressed / I want to find a haircut that fits me / That hasn’t been co-opted by Nazis / I’ll settle for some rest / I want to move on, I want to feel more important / I’m trying to be fine, I swear I’m trying to be my best."
It was impressive to me as an example of an album speaking up for itself. Schmaltz is not great, but it's good, and it's phenomenally easy to listen to from a sonic perspective. Its lyricism is grounded in the guilt and depression that seems to have followed Slocum through a divorce at a young age, and through the disappointment of still trying to get a band off the ground near age 30. That type of intimacy and honesty and the detailed world-building that happens on this album, even if it's reserved mostly for small-potatoes scenes like church shows and beer-soaked attic rooms, will usually find an audience. That a band from Los Angeles can come play a show like that in Brooklyn is indicative of an album finding its way into the right ears, and indicative (in my opinion) of an album that will continue to find its way into more ears with time. (As an aside, it's very difficult to remember that this band is from L.A., given how much Philadelphia is in their sound.)
Ultimately, Schmaltz is a bit emblematic of its second track title: "Sequels, Remakes, & Adaptations." Yes, this band sounds a lot like The Menzingers a lot of the time. There's a bit of Captain, We're Sinking in here too, and the vocals on "Nuevo" remind me of the vocals on The Hotelier's "An Introduction To The Album," and there are other groups that have paved the way for Spanish Love Songs' core sound to exist. But there's nothing wrong with this, in my opinion; I still listen to The '59 Sound even though I have convenient access to Born To Run. What's important here is where this band takes things next. I have fond retroactive associations of Sports because Modern Baseball was then able to grow with me by releasing You're Gonna Miss It All and Holy Ghost. A redux of Sports as MoBo's LP2 would not have landed the plane.
So I think Schmaltz will earn a prized retroactive judgement if Spanish Love Songs proceed to explore the parts of their sound that identify this band from the others. Listening to some of Slocum's lyricism ("I’m walking backwards, these wasted years / And still nobody knows my name / My shitty songs, or my chubby face"), it seems like he's ready to embrace the next challenge. This album has the ability to give Spanish Love Songs the chance to leave the basement, to not stop being a band, to write another album, to take the next step.