Music Reviews

The Promise Ring


Anti / Foreign Leisure / Epitaph

Perhaps we all saw this coming, but were afraid to admit it. Maybe we saw their recent shows, many of which were near-exclusively devoted to the slower, sappier side of The Promise Ring. Or, chances are we enjoyed the sedated tracks on their albums, but were really just thankful for the moment it afforded us to catch our breath. Now the roles are reversed and, please, say it ain’t so, Promise Ring. Say you’ll still write us pop songs, ones with loud and crunchy guitars, the kind with punch and kick and perfectly infectious choruses. Say you haven’t forgotten why we all loved Very Emergency, and say you still yearn for love songs with a bite. Most importantly, though, say you won’t put out another album like this.

It isn’t that Wood/Water is bad music – it’s just bad Promise Ring. Most of these songs are teeming with enough audible fiber to flush straight through the system, leaving nothing – no catchy chorus, no bellowing melody – to linger on in its wake. Not even singer/songwriter Davey von Bohlen’s vocals seem right in this context. His strength is his dry stumbling poise that cuts through distorted guitar, and this intimate campfire-like context doesn’t carry him well. With the exception of a few abnormally upbeat tunes – like the jangly “Size of Your Life,” which is so filtered that it sounds like it’s being played in the next room – Wood/Water is nothing more than The Promise Ring needing a hug and an assurance that, whatever it is, it’ll all be OK.

These are songs of lost love, the kind with strings and keyboards and a guitar being thoughtfully strummed. They’re pretty and thoughtful, sure, but they’re not the songs to crank up on a highway. They’re the soundtrack to heartbreak, the kind of music that suddenly makes sense after parting ways with your better half; and if The Promise Ring were really going for something blunted and narrowly empathetic, then they achieved it with staggering accuracy. This isn’t unique pop, though. It’s slightly tormented and wholly unexciting, and would make beautiful background music – which is a notion sadder than the songs themselves, because The Promise Ring’s rightful place is in the foreground, loud and zestful and with smiles for all.

The Promise Ring:

Recently on Ink 19...