Photo by Chloe Aftel
In pop-punk, a songwriter “maturing” can be a double-edged sword: we associate age with earned perspective, but that perspective can dull the urgency of an artist’s original voice. The lead songwriters of pop-punk’s former throne-bearers Blink-182 split up over an identity crisis oscillating between taking themselves too seriously and refusing to say anything serious at all. Rarely do artists strike the right balance of external irreverence and internal transparency, and that’s why pop-punk has had such a difficult time acquiring any critical credibility throughout the genre’s lifespan. The difference between intimacy and melodrama is all in approach, and luckily there are bands such as Tancred that refuse to sand down their immediate emotions into something “refined” but residual, yet offer something fully-formed upon arrival.
Tancred is the solo endeavor of Minnesotan indie trio Now, Now’s Jess Abbott, who stars on her records as a rip-roaring machine of spite and sincerity. On her 2013 self-titled album released via Topshelf, Abbott stretched a song-writing muscle that displayed a knack for raw self-awareness packaged in hooky power pop. Her voice was immediate — almost uncomfortably so — as she sang of being “embarrassed with all my choices/the chaos of all the voices.” She was under pressure, but not defeated — as if the stress was actually the glue keeping her together rather than the force pulling her apart.
Tancred’s latest record, Out of the Garden, was written in Minneapolis and recorded in Los Angeles, and came out early last month on Polyvinyl. Where Tancred was self-defeating, Out of the Garden is unapologetic — with Abbott tossing out her grievances under a newly confrontational stature and a menacing scowl. Her drawl is assertively dismal, yet the rhythms are quick and clean and the basslines so buoyantly direct that it’s easy to get wrapped up in her worldview of dancing whilst damning the world.
“Every piece of you, it makes me sick,” Abbott sneers on “The Glow,” before admitting “I wanted to say your name a little too loud/I wanted to kill myself inside of your mouth.” Over guitars that scratch through clouds of fuzz, Abbott unleashes fury with both fists up, smashing glass and mirrors so she can avoid both the image of others and of herself. In speaking with me about the new record, she admitted with a laugh, “It’s kind of aggressive, you could say that.”
Abbott’s angry throughout Out of the Garden, but justifiably so. She paints a vivid picture of a society we should disapprove of — one that’s marred by double-standards and emotional repugnance. She repeatedly condemns patriarchal norms and the people in her life, including herself, who give them power. “I would kill for some goddamn noise,” Abbott proclaims on “Poise,” propelling herself out of the corner she’s been backed into as a woman. Yet she subsequently sighs in recognition that her own self-confidence isn’t enough to earn her the respect of a dismissive culture, and that she “would kill to be one of the boys.”
Abbott wrote Tancred’s self-titled record in between tours with Now, Now, when she could only dedicate a few weeks at a time to the project before hitting the road again. The album was born out of stretches in her bedroom napping and playing guitar, where Abbott embodied “this kind of mopey, sleepy headspace.” Out of the Garden, on the other hand, was written with Now, Now currently on a break, which allowed Abbott to swing her time completely in the pursuit of her own personal endeavor.
“I wasn’t on a tour cycle. When I wrote