Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

underscores pens eclectic tales of American suburbia on Wallsocket


Release date: 22 September 2023
Underscores Wallsocket cover
20 September 2023, 09:00 Written by Matthew Kim

According to underscores, the album cover of Wallsocket alludes to the horseshoe theory.

The idea that something can be so extreme that it wraps back around and becomes its opposite. It also represents Wallsocket, Michigan – a town whose residents’ stories are told by underscores through theatrical first-person narration. A town that doesn’t exist.

Once a thriving horse-breeding town, the story goes, industrialization decimated Wallsocket’s economy until new white-collar businesses led to a population surge. Online, one can find town hall meeting notes, pizzeria websites, and online forums related to the small town; everything from massive embezzlement schemes to strange ROTC kids populate Wallsocket’s imaginary discourse.

In this universe, underscores is no more than a lurker, taking notes on the people of Wallsocket and writing songs from their perspective. Wallsocket, thus, is an anthology of short stories as much as an album. Each track represents a new Wallsocketer’s tale, and Underscores tells each one with the diversity, drama and creativity that they deserve.

Underscores has always been known for eclecticism – her debut Fishmonger cycled through hyperpop, garage punk, emo rap, dubstep and psychedelic ambience like it was nothing – and, following in tradition, Wallsocket is easily one of the most heterogeneous albums of the year. For example, three consecutive tracks near the beginning of the album – “Locals (Girls like us),” “Duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” and “You don’t even know who I am” – tell three distinct narratives: a group of local girls coming of age, a sick person fed up with their rare yet benign illness that keeps them in the hospital, and a teenage stalker romanticizing her neighbour’s difficult life, respectively. And, respectively, each song is backed by: a dance-pop instrumental that early Kesha could have faux-rapped over, glitchy percussion that explodes into a massive wall of angsty guitars, and sombre slowcore. It’s hard to imagine three songs that could be more different, let alone three in a row on the same album. Sometimes, the album’s whiplash-inducing pivots appear multiple times on the same song: “Geez louise” pivots from industrial rock into a rootsy hand-claps-and-acoustic-guitar passage into bedroom pop and then into a massive, screamed climax.

The broadness of Wallsocket’s sound isn’t just due to self-indulgence, though: underscores puts effort into pairing unique musical ideas with remarkably adept characterizations of each Wallsocket resident. Even down to the smallest writing quirks, each song – and each character – has a unique, distinctive voice. The teasing tone of “Cops and Robbers” comes from the perspective of a white-collar fraudster on the run; “Horror Movie Soundtrack,” a song told from the viewpoint of a dying soldier, is lyrically terse, vague and pained. The deep, cryptic messages of “Geez louise” and “Duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” revolve around abstract Biblical allegories, while “Johnny johnny johnny” recalls the story of a teenage girl escaping a groomer with juvenile refrains peppered throughout the track (“Johnny, johnny, johnny, johnny, whoops! Johnny, whoops!”). Every detail is well thought-out, and every emotion conveyed wholly through a varied set of sounds and writing styles.

But, beyond that, Wallsocket is just a really good pop (and rock, and folk, and everything in between) album. As she proved on Fishmonger, Underscores has a remarkable ability to search out a good melody. Wallsocket is no different: especially on the album’s more upbeat, structured tunes like “Cops and robbers” and “Old money bitch,” underscores pens some of the catchiest choruses of the year. But every track – even the least pop-inspired ones – found its way into my head within just a few listens. From the single twangy, faintly dissonant acoustic guitar that only makes “Horror movie soundtrack” more heartbreaking to the roaring power-pop guitars at the back-end of “Uncanny long arms,” every bit of this album is instantly earwormy, making Wallsocket the rare concept album that works just as well on shuffle as it does from front to back.

Creating an album like this is a high-risk venture – if every song isn’t concise and fully essential, it can very easily fall apart under the weight of its own concept. A pop album with twelve long tracks and as many unique stories, pivoting rapidly between moods without warning, would have been a bloated disaster – if not for Underscores’ remarkable talent as a songwriter and musician. While Underscores was always an artist with potential, someone who successfully rode the late wave of hyperpop’s slow death, her music has never felt this monumental. Every single song on this album excels as an individual narrative – painting a detailed picture of a fictional, archetypical American suburb – but the whole still manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Wallsocket is her masterpiece. And if it doesn’t propel her into indie stardom, we’ve all done something wrong.

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