Sometime very soon, someone will look past the frenetic acoustic guitar, the singing saw, the trombone, trumpet and skittering drums of The Future Kings of Nowhere's self-titled debut and call the core of what Shayne O'Neill and his revolving band do emo. Oh shit, right?
Thing is, that person is going to be almost exactly right: "It's a trainwreck of an ending/ the same as if we'd not even met," O'Neill sings in his happily nasal voice on "Like a Staring Contest." Or, better yet, during his anthem for unrequited, even unrecognized amorousness called "What You Don't Know Might Kill Me," he pounds his guitar like his ego, letting loose with this barb of frustration: "You don't even know that I've been running/ Completely unaware that I'm coming after you/ You can tell your friends that you feel nothing/ Tell them that I feel it, too." O'Neill knows his feelings, and he uses them as his chief lyrical fount.
But, in 2007, decrying the Kings as emo is crippling, reductive and, as after-effects go, more than a little wrong. O'Neill and company are leaps more charming than cloying, his earnestness playing out with wit and vigor, qualities of a songwriter with plenty of experience but far too much hope, enthusiasm and intelligence to be jaded or cliché with his past. True, O'Neill names songs after his girlfriend and hits these big, strident, heart-in-the-larynx choruses with the help of his harmonizing friends, but, as a songwriter, he's in a class far above what's called emo right now. Rather, O'Neill is uncannily smart, spinning phrases like loopholes, casting anecdotes as metaphors and dropping narrative details like crumbs.
Remember the song about the trainwreck? Before that, O'Neill compares avoiding a break-up to two rodents trying to dig their way to China from a backyard, only to have the dirt collapse on their backs. Or that song for his girlfriend? By way of first verse, he goes ontological with it, wondering if the paper he's wasting writing love songs and the furniture that's supporting him is really worth the trees they cost. He's calling his whole profession into question, really, and love-led sincerity this clever and crafty could lead more than one more so-called emotional songwriter to do the same. Similarly, this magnetic if imperfect debut implores you to go well beyond the surface.
The Future Kings of Nowhere play a CD release party at Ringside Saturday, June 23, with Dan Melchior Und Das Menace, Titus Andronicus, Midtown Dickens and eberhardt at 8 p.m. Tickets are $2.