Review: awakebutstillinbed’s low self-esteem is an incredible album that I don’t think I like
It’s ironic that a band so averse to capitalizing titles creates the sonic equivalent of typing in caps lock. awakebutstillinbed’s what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you (from here on out, low self-esteem) is a relentless auditory assault, in the best way possible. Advancing the work of other emo revival bands, awakebutstillinbed drives their grungier take on the genre into uncharted, and more alienating, territory.
I’ll preface the remainder of my review with this disclaimer: I don’t think I liked this album. low self-esteem is harsh, discordant, niche, and not particularly euphonious. However, this album commands my respect and appreciation, as it should for many other emo fans. While this album wasn’t for me (nor was it intended to be), this is the album of the year for the right crowd.
There’s a lot to respect about the San Jose outfit and their bandleader, Shannon Taylor. The band has a strong DIY work ethic, juggles two lineups to ensure its viability and tour-readiness, and is led by Taylor, who persevered to make music even amidst insults levied by her family. Backstory aside, the musical and lyrical content on low self-esteem is significant and marks a divergent trend in the tendencies of emo revival.
The easiest and most timely comparison for low self-esteem is Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace Is There. Both bands show a willingness to delve into uncomfortable topics. Mental illness, loss, guilt, and stigma are prevalent themes. Hearing Shannon Taylor grapple with her own internalized self-loathing is dynamic and explosive. Spending a lifetime submerged in stigma (“to everyone: yeah, you were right / I'll never get better,”) Taylor sings about living the self-fulfilling prophecy of fucked-upness: “I know that i'm broken / And i play the part / Why try to get better? / I was born to tear myself apart.” Even though time and hindsight provide a healthier perspective, it’s too late to undo the mental damage she has already endured. Logic does little to erase deep-seated emotional trauma. Even though she may have moments of clarity, such as, “It feels like it's my fault, but i know inside / You were my best friend, but you fucked up my life,” it does little to shake her belief that she is broken and not enough.
Unlike many of her contemporaries, Taylor doesn’t gloss her painful verses with catchy hooks or melody lines that resolve in satisfying, albeit predictable, ways. The result is a higher bar of entry that renders the album less accessible (which will most likely be viewed as a positive by diehard fans). Awakebutstillinbed is embracing their identity and making the art they want to make, Spotify streams be damned. The whole album is loud, and if it gets soft, it’s only so that it can get loud again, because Taylor has things to say that cannot be subdued. In fact, she may have a tenuous control of the subject matter herself. Production value could be better, and Taylor’s vocals are often pitchy and tonally unpleasant. The album’s energy is chaotic and lyrics can tend towards the histrionic. For these reasons, low self-esteem’s appeal won’t be broad, but for those who the album is for, they contribute to its profound impact.
Emo music has often been a distinctly suburban genre, marked by the commercial success of third wave emo bands that catered to adolescent heartbreak and teenage angst. But under the picturesque veneer of the suburbs, true darkness lurks. High school football games and bake sales hide a side of the suburbs that’s much more difficult to talk about: the broken families, loveless home lives, abuse, addiction, and stigmatized mental illness. No one wants to, or is equipped to, talk about these topics, a maddening contradiction to those who are told they’re living the American Dream. Which is why I find it so easy to compare low self-esteem to Home, Like Noplace Is There. Both eschew the more juvenile subject matter of third wave emo (and some emo revival bands) in favor of confronting the ingrained fucked-upness of their peers, their communities, and themselves. Taylor does not find salvation in raging against the darkness and oppression that consumes her, but it’s preferable to the alternative of remaining silent. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the types of pain Taylor sings about, so this album wasn’t for me. But for those who have experienced the evils that only a civilized, “well-adjusted” society can breed and then normalize, they’ll find this album and its contents cathartic. While it can’t provide salvation, it can let you know that you are seen, you are heard, and you are not alone, and that’s a start.
Top Tracks: fathers, floor
For Fans of: Hotelier, hating middle-class society
Pros: Important thematic content, stakes a conceptual direction for emo revival
Cons: Lacks diversity between tracks (too many start soft so that they can get loud), will only truly resonate with a small collection of listeners