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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

[Out of the Garden] I was home working minimum wage jobs and trying to piece my life together and getting older and seeing a lot of stuff about the world for what it really is,” Abbot explained. “I found myself kind of mad, kind of lethargic, bummed in this new way and it just created a whole different vibe from this last one.”

You can see this new outlook expressed in the detached hedonism that characterizes the record, epitomized on a track like “Swimming,” which sways in rigidright angles the way a Speedy Ortiz track would. Abbott coos impassively over a crunchy instrumental far removed from Now, Now’s more somber swagger. “When I’ve written with Now, Now it is the three of us together layering on our own ideas in relation to each other’s ideas…[we are] melding our brains together to make those songs,” Abbott described. “For [Tancred] it’s me going off into this whole other universe. I’m not thinking about anyone else or what other people might want to or not want to hear — I’m just thinking about what I want to do and what I want to listen to.”

Where Now, Now found themselves opening for moody bands with massive sounds such as Paramore, Tancred’s more narrowly combative music fits right at home on the billing for the upcoming Speedy Ortiz/the Good Life tour in which she will act as the opener. The trio of bands hit the Bay Area on June 2 at the Rickshaw Stop, a central San Francisco institution Abbott happens to have a particular fondness for. “When I’ve gone on tour I’ve almost always played at Rickshaw Stop,” Abbott noted. “I’m just obsessed with that venue. Every show I’ve played there has been so much fun. And the sangria is really good.”

After she finishes her stint with Speedy Ortiz and the Good Life, Tancred will open for Motion City Soundtrack on select dates of their farewell tour. Motion City Soundtrack happens to be the thread that ties Abbott’s two main projects together, with Now, Now having also opened for the band back in 2010. That gig was a triumph for Abbott, who has idolized the band since she was in middle school. Now her icons are turning into peers and her adoration subsequently shifting towards admiration: “They’re such sweet people, I love all of their albums, and to be invited to play a show on their farewell tour — I’m honored to be considered for that opportunity.”

But where Motion City Soundtrack came across eager and eccentric in their depiction of young adult neuroticism, Abbott tackles the same concerns in a more agitated manner. This much is clear from the first impression of Out of the Garden’s strikingly monochromatic cover art, designed by Now, Now drummer Bradley Hale (who has done all of Tancred’s artwork since the beginning of the project). “As I was writing these songs they all felt like very red songs to me. In my mind they are very bright and have this moody tone to them lyrically,” Abbott noted. “It is an aggressive, more violent record at times — red just felt very fitting.”

Red is indeed an apt color for the romantic hostility contained within Out of the Garden’s 33-minute run time. Abbott is rarely less than biting, but she never crosses the line into cruel. She’s conscientious, proving there can be valor in vindication, and that you can empathize with apathy. Her confidence derives from the clarity of her belief that her surroundings are failing her, and she uses her pen as a mighty sword to cut through any pretensions of normalcy that justify inadequacy. That’s the excitement of punk — in burning the status quo to better illuminate your own convictions; but rarely does punk ever so precisely pop.

The Good Life, Speedy Ortiz, Tancred
The Rickshaw Stop
Thursday, June 2
8pm, $15