Emo, as a genre, has always favoured the young, its themes of romantic angst and emotional isolation like catnip for the youthful and restless.
Singaporean emo revivalists Terrible People have grappled with this reality over the course of their journey. On their 2019 sophomore album ‘Like Clean Air’, the band had jettisoned the post-uni hedonism of their 2017 debut ‘Smoking Man’ and reluctantly accepted the responsibilities that come with full-time employment. The record sometimes played like a protest against the growing complexities of their lives and how difficult it was to balance that with being in a band. After the album was released, original drummer Edison Neo called it quits.
Terrible People have called their latest record ‘Home, In a Way’ the missing piece in their discography: the one that should have come between their first two releases. Tracks such as ‘Every Day’ still deal with the struggle between their working lives and making music: “I forgot to sleep again / And walked to work feeling nervous and grey / Slumped in a chair at noon / And closed my eyes hoping it’ll be over soon”.
Unlike on the previous record, though, Terrible People seem to have better adjusted to this station of life. The last line of the song demonstrates something of a determination to make it work: “A sound came into my head and it comforted me so I sang it out loud.”
Opener ‘Gone Now’ sparkles with a pop gleam and melodic edge that was not always present on their first two records. Its opening line “I was a hell-sent disarray / She sits so gracefully instead”, perfectly sums up a key trope of the genre – namely being infatuated with someone who is far less captivated by you – and hints that Terrible People are not quite done exorcising the chaos of their youth. Themes of personal inadequacy also appear, but this time framed in the context of the failure to exercise moral beliefs. On ‘Courage’, vocalist and guitarist Alif Zaini sings: “I’ll wake up to the fact that I’ve done nothing right by people / Really is a lack of courage from where I stand and see.”
Terrible People are rounded out by Hadi Lee (bass, vocals) and Joshua Loh (drummer), guitarist and songwriter Goh Koon How having left the band between albums. They have said that the difficulties of balancing work and their music during the recording of ‘Like Clean Air’ translated into some of those songs sounding incomplete and rushed.
It seems like they’ve vowed not to make the same mistakes again: not a note on ‘Home, In A Way’ is wasted. Everything works towards fleshing out the record’s sonic canvas. The band credit this newly acquired sonic consistency to producers Zhang Bo and Raphael Ong (the latter of indie band Sobs), who challenged the band to put out a record that could appeal to a broader listener base, not just an emo one.
The results are at times, stunning. At the climax of single ‘Derby’, the band attack the section violently – but they still sound tight and in control, the production somehow managing to bottle the band’s sonic ferocity without compromising their infectious energy. Intimate closer ‘Slow Blinking’ could’ve played out like a token acoustic ballad, but the layers of sonic textures bubbling just beneath the surface elevate it to something more meaningful instead – a suitable ending to a great record.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Terrible People’s realisation of their pop potential has coincided with them coming to terms with where they are in life. This is a much less anxious record than ‘Like Clean Air’. Thankfully, this has not come at the expense of their boundless vigour. Instead, ‘Home, In A Way’ captures a band maturing and finding their foothold in music and in life.
- Release date: June 11
- Record label: Tired Records