Last Friday, October 23, Valley released their latest EP, sucks to see you doing better, and it is simultaneously on brand and yet a stark departure from their existing discography. With this EP, the Canadian quartet—comprised of Rob Laska on vocals, Karah James on drums and vocals, Michael Brandolino on guitar, and Alex Dimauro on bass—promises the most authentic glimpse into their human experience to date, and they certainly deliver.
In many ways, this EP marks a shift from their sonically dreamy and lyrically abstract past releases. Their debut EP, The Room is White, and their debut LP, Maybe, are typified by surreal layers of echoing harmonies and poetic verse that evoke names like The 1975, Clairo, or Hippo Campus. In contrast, their newest brainchild is woven with more upbeat tempos and bubbly pop influences (as well as a notable increase in Karah vocals that I am absolutely living for.) This isn’t to say that the new EP’s antecedents don’t have their own indie pop bops—I can’t help but tap my foot to songs like “Bailey” or “There’s Still A Light In The House”—but rather that neither the ethereal instrumentals in “Headlights” and “Smittys” nor the orchestral musings of the “Nowhere Fast” reprise are on the same wavelength as their latest popular culture references and sparkling rhythms that demand to be danced to, be it at the barricade of their next show or in your kitchen. TL;DR: the pop portion of their alternative pop-rock sound has never been more striking.
But although this EP may feel more like mainstream pop than any other Valley project, sucks to see you doing better is far from basic.
While their previous releases seem to evade reality, this EP is grounded in it, and what an extraordinary reality it is. Global pandemic aside, Valley addresses some very real, widely universal truths; for example, the titular song depicts the dreaded post-breakup comparison and fearing that you “lost” the breakup. Straying from the idea of romance (or a lack thereof), “nevermind” describes how perfectionism and procrastination can elicit the disappointment of chasing a romanticized ideology that you’ll never find. The sentimental ballad “homebody” perfectly narrates the lagging motivation, loneliness, and dissonance of under-feeling and over-thinking that feels especially relevant during the mundane age of quarantine.
As the sentiments of grief, anxiety, confusion, apathy, and overall vulnerability mount, it is clear that Valley aims to juxtapose this somber, albeit relatable, realism with happy melodies and buoyant beats. By softening the minor-key subject matter with major-key airiness, Valley normalizes these conversations about mental health and makes the struggles of existing in this era more approachable and communal, as if to say “It sucks that we’re stuck here, but at least we’re stuck here together. And can sing about it. And maybe dance a little, too.”
This approachability is furthered by the aforementioned appeals to pop culture; although citing the temporal notions of “read receipts” or “gaining likes for every meal I ignore” runs the risk of sounding cliché, Valley expertly crafts these scattered nods to the digital age to make their music all the more accessible without sacrificing the their notoriously ingenious lyricality. From The Office binges to Harry Potter marathons, and even an allusion to “Lonely Weekend” by the beloved queen Kacey Musgraves herself, these references timestamp the songs into symbols of today. Worry not, for the EP is timelessly still rife with nuance, quirky outros, their famously synth-drenched hooks and even an acoustic version of “hiccup” to satiate our “old Valley”-loving hearts. However, the intentionality behind changing up their classically complex Valley tune with aspects that are so purely pop is ultimately a power move.
With sucks to see you doing better, Valley strived to create something inherently honest, direct, and welcoming, and the EP’s danceable beats in tandem with the ephemeral subject matter are the perfect vessel for these objectives. In a time where community is not only the most needed, but also the hardest to come by, Valley’s plunge into this freshly pop sound creates community of its own.
You can stream Valley’s sucks to see you doing better below.