In the three years since the Promise Ring hit college-radio paydirt with Very Emergency, these Milwaukee emo mainstays have weathered singer Davey von Bohlenís cancer scare and parted ways with long-time label Jade Tree. So it goes without saying that the bandís first album for Epitaphís Anti- subsidiary (and fourth overall) marks a new beginning for them. But few would have expected such a complete transformation. Gone are the big guitars and chugging rhythms of old, replaced by fractured acoustic soundscapes reminiscent of Wilco and Pavement at their quietest. Not that the Promise Ring have forgotten the hooks ó Wood/Waterís first single, "Stop Playing Guitar," yeah-yeah-yeahs itself out of a melancholy stupor, and von Bohlen tames his lisp into a happy-faced chorus on the bittersweet "Become One Anything One Time."
The band recorded the album in England with producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur), and that helps explain its deft combination of sing-along choruses and pop-minded experimentation. Even the one track they did in the US, "Say Goodbye Good" (produced by Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato Jr.), sounds like an Oasis-style love-in. Old-school Promise Ring fans looking for radio-ready power pop may be disappointed. But the songwriting and the performances are as good as ever ó and in view of the thorough stylistic reinvention the band have undergone, thatís an impressive feat.
(The Promise Ring perform on Monday May 20, at the Paradise. Call 617-423-NEXT.)