I first became acquainted with Expire through the 2011 EP, Suffer the Cycle, and I loved the band from the get-go. Expire's sound is simple, direct and methodical. It captures the best of the rhythmic '80s hardcore sound but ramps up the aggression and the energy, and nowhere is this better exemplified than on the band's newest release, Pretty Low.
Pretty Low opens with the title track, which is a song that sets the mood for the album both lyrically and sonically. This album is very obviously a catharsis – a testament to the idea of a light at the end of the tunnel. With lyrics like, "Refuse to let my life be reduced to rubble / When the shit keeps piling up, get a shovel," Expire reveals its mode of dealing with depression: you have to put in the work to get healthy.
Expire tackles complex topics with straightforward and relatable lyrics, and the music has a raw, rough-hewn feel to it; this combination serves to make Pretty Low an album blistering with authenticity. Songs like "Just Don't" and "Forgetting" speak to a complex relationship with sex and companionship. "Just Don't" talks about trying to force love when it's just not there anymore, and "Forgetting" issues a desperate plea for intimacy ("I just need a warm body / Shelter from the cold / Maybe just for a night / Tell me it's alright"). In a sense, the two are contradictory. "Just Don't" implies that it's better to be alone than to force emotion, whereas "Forgetting" seems to say that sometimes we'll just take whatever contact we can get.
Between "Just Don't" and "Forgetting" is one of my favourite songs on Pretty Low, "Fiction." I interpreted "Fiction" as dealing with the way the media limits straight men's desires to a mythical 'perfect' woman. Roaring the lyrics, "I'm in love with a list of things / They tell me you should be / Programmed to TV pretty / Created such an ugly mind," Expire expresses perfectly the shock and anger that I myself remember feeling when I started to become aware of how the media had manipulated what I found attractive – and how unattainable that standard was for real women.
I found the most powerful song on the album to be "If it Were up to Me," about the guilt felt by the speaker for not being able to prevent violence done to his little sister. The song's emotional intensity peaks as vocalist Josh Kelting abruptly stops the track with a spat out, "See you in hell, motherfucker," leaving no doubt as to the message of "If it Were up to Me."
Pretty Low is a great record if you take the time to listen to the lyrics, and it's a great record to just rock out to, but it's not taking any bold new steps within the hardcore scene. It has "Nobody," the obligatory song about being betrayed by a friend, and the middle of the album lags a bit, with "Old Habits" and "Rejection" as filler. While certainly about a serious issue (suicide), "Gravity" comes off as a little trite, and there were times during my first listen when I could predict throughout the album when the breakdowns were coming. That being said, Expire is the pinnacle of a hardworking midwestern band. I took plenty away from Pretty Low, but the band members' dedication to putting the work into their craft is what struck me the hardest. On track eight, "Callous," Kelting voices frustration with the stuck-ness of working class life, and the way it can limit our individual quests to do what we love. With Pretty Low, Expire finally has an outlet; they've taken the lessons learned from the blue collar ethic and applied it to what they love doing best – which is making kick ass records.