Remember Sports started off like a firecracker. Their first couple albums, back when they were still just going by Sports, were short blasts of manic energy. Lead singer Carmen Perry barreled through breakups and heartache with a breathless fervency. The band packaged early adulthood anxieties into hooks that were irrepressibly catchy and often dementedly funny. On one of their best songs, “Clean Jeans,” Perry sneers at a partner who is more well-informed and put together than her: “You’re jerking off to Al Jazeera and making your bed/ And I could be at CrossFit like you but I’d rather be dead.” Messiness was something to aspire to in those early songs, a way to deflect judgement over not growing up fast enough. It’s an attitude that made for some infectious songs but also felt unsustainable.
Like so many college-aged bands that channel the darker side of feeling too much, Sports could have flamed out, never to be heard from again. Which is, in fact, what they almost did right as they were releasing their sophomore album, All Of Something, back in 2015. They announced they were breaking up before that album was even out. Except that, in the end, they didn’t break up. After a couple years that involved in some lineup adjustments and a move to Philadelphia, they returned with a new name and 2018’s Slow Buzz, which found them a bit older, a bit wiser, and a bit less eager to burn the candle at both ends.
They still manage to pull off plenty of high-wire jitters on their fourth album, Like A Stone, but the band also sound more well-rounded and versatile than ever, able to dip into twangy reveries and wallowing rock with as much aplomb as they approached scratchy pop-punk songs. There’s some connective tissue between Remember Sports and bands like the Rural Alberta Advantage or Swearin’, who played spry and loose and full of heart and always sounded like they were on the verge of fucking up but stumbled forward with purpose. Like A Stone really demonstrates the breadth of Remember Sports’ capabilities. While Perry is still their primary songwriting force, the rest of the band — guitarist Jack Washburn, bassist Catherine Dwyer, and drummer Connor Perry — are essential to maintaining Remember Sports’ delicate balance between erratic and irresistible. The result is a band who has never sounded more sure of their prowess, even as their songs tackle their deepest insecurities.
And Perry’s insecurities, like so many of us, are rooted in whether she’ll ever be good enough for herself or anyone else. Her lyrics often return to the idea of cleanliness — she’s written songs about washing machines and clean socks and not being able to get stains out once they set in. She uses the same sort of imagery on Like A Stone: “Was I supposed to let you walk all over me?/ Wring me out ’til I bleed/ Until everything comes out clean,” she sings on “Easy.” In her view, being messy — emotionally as much as anything else — is a way of keeping in touch with your own emotions and maintaining an individualistic spirit. But messiness is less charming the older one gets, and on Like A Stone, Perry starts to recognize her own pattern of being self-destructive just for the sake of it. “Easy” ends on what amounts to a lecture directed toward Perry’s younger self: “Do something different with all that free time/ You’re wasting your mind/ Nothing came easy like you thought it might/ Just do something right, just do anything right.”
She spends a whole lot of Like A Stone litigating her attitude in the past. Her regrets and mistakes fuel many of the more high-octane songs on the album, like opener “Pinky Ring,” which careens with a hook of “Wasn’t I good to you? Wasn’t I sweet to you?” There’s a physicality to both the song and Perry’s desperation that lands somewhere between a desire to be owned and learning to own your confidence. “I wanna see you put your hands where you’d want them in a dream/ I wanna be the girl that talks, makes you fall down to your knees,” she sings as a come-on. “Push me around and make me sorry for everything I’ve done/ Drag me back down, just pull me close, make me stare into the sun.”
The struggle between wanting to be subsumed and wanting to stand up for yourself is reflected in the band’s wild shifts in sound throughout Like A Stone. As Remember Sports’ current lineup has grown more confident over these last two albums, they’ve become more comfortable in engaging in these stylistic shifts. Take “Materialistic,” the album’s tortured centerpiece that alternates between a mangled guitar line and some of the softest, prettiest music Remember Sports has ever recorded. Or “Coffee Machine,” a sweet, slip-sliding 40 seconds of a song that sounds like light peeking through the blinds in the morning. Or “Odds Are,” the album’s closer, which starts out sounding like a home recording then bursts into a full-bloom country song. Perry’s distinctive voice is more than ready to meet the band wherever they decide to go. She has a nasally lilt that sometimes approaches all-out yelling but always feels tightly controlled.
But the control she exhibits with her voice often does not carry over to her actions in real-life. She uses the songs on Like A Stone to examine why she feels the need to lash out in relationships, to insist that she’s worth less than she actually is. “Just make a mess of me, I’ll always clean it up,” she once directed on All Of Something highlight “Get Bummed Out.” But what if being in a relationship didn’t have to be degrading? On Like A Stone, she starts to imagine a partnership in which her panic attacks don’t always have to be managed alone — a more mature, equitable version of love, both for yourself and someone else. “I’m scared of losing the highs,” she sings on the searing “Sentimentality,” when she finds herself alone in the dark and overanalyzing her partner’s steady breathing. “I’m scared of changing my mind/ And maybe love isn’t making you decide.” A youthful rush of emotion doesn’t necessarily make those feelings more real; it can be just as fun to be responsible and not have everything hurt all the time.
On the album’s title track, she underlines a revelation: “I put myself together again/ ‘Cus I found out I’m worth saving/ I didn’t know that ’til the day I met you/ Let that sink down, let the vowels surround you.” The band sounds warm and inviting here, a long cry from the ramshackle, nervous energy that they so often exhibited in their early days. There’s no shame in settling down, sinking into a life that’s less messy but maybe more complex, and finding your place in the world among people who care about you.
The album’s shaggy penultimate track “Out Loud” finds Perry searching for that stability with evocative poetics: “You are the gold things that float around/ I reach out to catch you, both of my hands stretched out.” She might be singing about that one special someone, or she could be singing about the bandmates she plays with all the time and the community she’s made for herself. At the end of the song, each member of Remember Sports takes a turn singing the chorus, words that might as well justify why it’s worth it to stay in a band despite it all: “I won’t stop, never give up/ Trying to get everything out of your head into your mouth/ We can make this last if you say it out loud.” For a band who so often sound like a collision of jumbled thoughts, it’s a remarkable step toward some hard-fought clarity.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Dinosaur Jr.’s Sweep It Into Space.
• Alan Vega’s lost ’90s album Mutator.
• Porter Robinson’s Nurture.
• Fog Lake’s Tragedy Reel.
• Peter Frampton’s Peter Frampton Forgets The Words.
• Rata Negra’s Una Vida Vulgar.
• Field Music’s Flat White Moon.
• DāM-FunK’s Architecture III.
• Topaz Jones’ Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma.
• Lady Dan’s I Am The Prophet.
• Tom Jones’ Surrounded By Time.
• Satomimagae’s Hanazono.
• Ade’s Midnight Pizza.
• Imelda May’s 11 Past The Hour.
• The last two parts of Eric Church’s triple album Heart & Soul.
• Hushpuppy’s remastered Singles Club.
• Jeff Rosenstock’s ska reimagining Ska Dream.
• Róisín Murphy’s remix album Crooked Machine.
• Kero Kero Bonito’s Civilisation II EP.
• PJ Harding & Noah Cyrus’ People Don’t Change EP.