Ex-Boyfriends’ first album, Dear John, has such a contemporary sound — that’s a euphemistic way of saying it’s, like, totally in with the emo kids right now — it feels like it could date fairly easily.
The immediately likable hooks and the brash energy give Dear John a fighting chance at endurance, but there’s no betting on fashion. And Dear John is tres indie fashion.
In With, the band’s follow-up, shows definite signs of maturity. It’s not so quick to reveal its strengths, and its amiability can only be appreciated with multiple listens. What it lacks in quick gratification, it makes up for in long-term rewards.
The band steps back from the driving tempo of its debut, giving the songs a bit more room to breathe. "Private D", "Pick-Up Line" and "Breathe Without Breaking" get loud, no doubt, but they’re not boisterous for the sake of being boisterous.
Where Dear John spat out caustic odes to errant lovers, In With finds the venom tempered. "Situation" takes a more world-weary view of dashed expectations, while "I Don’t Believe It In You" approaches a break-up with both denial and resignation.
Some of the songs turn to empathy, as "Astronaut" does with a woman tired of battling an unspecified situation or "Goodnight" with its message of reassurance. Even "Sound of Your Music" hazards into some romantic territory.
Ex-Boyfriends haven’t totally abandoned its youth. "Pick Up Line" indulges in some come-hither antics, while a bouncy riff drives the snotty skepticism of "Saving Face".
The melodies are still catchy, but the band doesn’t go for the easy hook. The songs don’t sink in as quickly as on the first album, but they have longer staying power. Even the arrangements feel less cluttered, each part sounding cleaner without losing the rough edges.
If Dear John was a quick bite, In With is a full meal. Ex-Boyfriends sound tighter, and the songs show some real growth. In short, the band has become better musicians.