When Have Mercy burst onto the scene with their overpowering, impressive debut full-length The Earth Pushed Back last year, they were firmly on the radar as a band to watch. The Baltimore, MD band’s debut showed an ability to weld emotional lyrics with modern rock musicianship in ways that very few bands have ever been able to to successfully, all while drawing influences from contemporaries like Citizen and Balance and Composure to find a sound unmatched by any other band in the current scene. The band showed a great deal of potential, but were still a little raw at times Some songs blended together all too easily, with monster single “Let’s Talk About Your Hair” scoring most of the accolades. The album was certainly consistent throughout, but “Hair” was the clear gem of the bunch. Then, earlier in 2014, the band released a split EP with Daisyhead, with two new songs recorded by Paul Leavitt, where their potential clearly began to be realized. Each track brought a different feel to it, and had its own way of staying in the listeners’ minds. The band clearly enjoyed the experience with Leavitt, as they tapped the prolific producer (who is responsible for the production on the majority of The Dangerous Summer’s releases) for their sophomore full-length and debut on new home Hopeless Records, A Place of Our Own.
Put simply, this album will floor you.
Album opener “To Convey” is short-but sweet, sure, but it actually showcases what makes Have Mercy’s take on emo. In the beginning of the song, vocalist/guitaris Brian Swindle strums alone, crooning through the first verse and chorus. The rest of the band (guitarist/vocalist Andrew Johnson, bassist/vocalist Nick Woolford, drummer/vocalist Todd Wallace) join in upon completion of the first chorus, slowly building to a crashing repetition of the verse and chorus, with Swindle’s shouted vocals soaring over the full-band delivery. Have Mercy executed this soft-crash-loud dynamic very well on The Earth Pushed Back as well, but this time around, things seemed to have been tightened up and refined, a sure sign of Leavitt’s production prowess providing a great push for the band’s creativity. These crashes come at different times throughout A Place of Our Own‘s ten tracks, and the placement of those help each track gain its own identity, allowing the tracks to stand out on their own and cohesively move the album along as a whole.
Swindle’s lyrics have often been a morose view of relationships, and that formula has not changed at all on tracks like “Pete Rose and Babe Ruth,” “Plastic Covered Furniture,” and “Pawn Takes Rook,” but there are also a few curveballs thrown in as well. Swindle’s scope turns on himself at times, with the melancholy still on full display throughout “Two Years,” and “Inch By Inch.” In a shocking development, we also see a few hints of optimism and hope, mainly on singles “Howl” (a track focusing on trying to convince someone to be proud of their growth) and “Spacecrafts” (which seems to be a plea to spend more time with a potential suitor). While his scope has widened, the sadness is heightened when seen, especially on “Nails and Teeth in Pavement,” a track about giving up on a relationship that is failing. “If we stay,” Swindle sings, “there’s nothing we can create.” It’s a sad moment when giving up on a relationship, for sure, and Swindle captures that hopelessness and uncertainty perfectly. Another case of this is seen in “Plastic Covered Furniture,” as Swindle muses on a pursuit of someone who refuses to make the time for him: “I was in every single picture/ you never hung on your wall/ you put me on the back burner/ like plastic covered furniture/ I will be there until you need me in your life.” Again, Swindle’s hopelessness will certainly hit home for a great deal of listeners.
Vocally, Swindle is very gifted, as he is able to both croon and wail throughout the course of each song (think Citizen’s Mat Kerekes with the hint of an arena-rock frontman like Andy Hull). It’s a tough assignment to be able to balance these two extremes, but it seems that he’s found a groove. Certain tracks on A Place Of Our Own focus more on the shouts and wails (“Pawn Takes Rook,” “Howl,” “Plastic Covered Furniture”) while others have a focus on his croons (“Inch By Inch,” “The Place You Love,” and the haunting album closer “Lean”), but there is enough of both in each track to keep things interesting and unpredictable. This is a credit to the entire band, really, as they seamlessly create fitting backdrops for Swindle to project in the way that best fits the flow of each track. In short, this somber/quiet-to-crashing/loud combination hasn’t sounded this good since Balance and Composure dropped Separation.
While Have Mercy do stick to their tried-and-true formula developed on The Earth Pushed Back, but they’ve also shown that they’re not afraid to push their boundaries a little. “Inch By Inch,” which can be seen as a sequel to Earth‘s “Living Dead,” with a subtle piano to accompany an acoustic guitar, but “Inch By Inch” is much more minimal, making it feel more barren and desperate than its predecessor. “Nails and Teeth in Pavement” begins with a riff that could be mistaken for a blues-rock song you’d expect to hear from The Gaslight Anthem, before giving way to a heavier tone. “Pete Rose and Babe Ruth” begins with a pop-tinged guitar riff reminiscent of that “She’s So High” song that was popular in the 90s, and “Lean” could show Superheaven a thing or two about how to create a pummeling grunge song. Though they dabble in other genres, their comfort zone is in this grunge/emo hybrid, and using these other styles to influence that eequation will only help the band explore even further and get even more people’s attention. That’s starting to work this time around, as The Early November frontman Ace Enders makes an appearance on “The Place You Love,” adding his shouts in the song’s bridge before passing the metaphorical torch back to Swindle for the track’s finale. It’s a great sign to see that Have Mercy have already caught the attention of a man like Enders, who has certainly carved a great career out for himself.
On The Earth Pushed Back, Have Mercy introduced themselves to the scene as a band loaded with potential just waiting to be realized. Their current setup on Hopeless Records and Paul Leavitt has proven to be the perfect fit for them, as listeners should throw away any preconceived notions of what this band could be. Because on A Place of Our Own, Have Mercy have not only realized the massive potential they’ve already shown, but they’ve showed us that they can continue to become even better.