Time loops are supposed to be about learning lessons. Perhaps the most seminal time loop of all time is the one in Groundhog Day, which gives Bill Murray what can only be described as a second life—one in which he learns the piano, other languages, and how to enjoy living in a small town. Other classic time loop movies, like the clever slasher horror Happy Death Day, are about taking back your life in more ways than one. The time loop promises that through repetition, there are infinite possibilities.
The Floridian band Home Is Where is looking at the time loop from a distinctly emo perspective. At the core of their phenomenal new album the whaler (yes, all lowercase) is what can only be described as an emo sci-fi concept. “The album as a whole tells the story of the whole world being stuck in a time loop on 9/11/2001,” says lead singer Brandon MacDonald in an interview with Consequence. But this time loop isn’t like Russian Doll or Palm Springs, where the world slowly presents itself to be filled with unlikely treasures.
Rather, says MacDonald, it’s like a tape loop. “The more it plays out, the more it degrades. People grow older and things change, but the collapse of the World Trade Center happens every morning.” Home Is Where isn’t the first musical act to play with this concept—it feels like an homage to William Basinski, whose 2004 Disintegration Loops gave the terror attacks a haunting sonic background. But Home Is Where is anywhere but in the background.
The opening track, “skin meadow,” gets the point across loud and clear. MacDonald sings of “kites and intestines tangled in branches,” announcing they are “spilling their guts to the gutless.” The song’s title is then repeated over and over again in quick chants and screams, as the music accelerates and background vocals join in. MacDonald starts to play a singing saw, bringing the music into a delightfully surreal place. A few tracks down is what MacDonald, in the Consequence interview, calls the last track on the album (but is actually the fourth), “whaling for sport,” offering the somewhat hopeful message that “past the sky, there’s more sky.” That is followed up with what MacDonald calls the first track on the album (but what is actually the fifth), “everyday feels like 9/11,” which starts off with a scream. Over and over again MacDonald says “Couldn’t keep it down, couldn’t stomach it.”
Repetition, not surprisingly, plays a large role on the album. It’s built for mosh pit singalongs, sure, but also calls to mind the psychological concept of repetition compulsion, where people can feel a need to recreate past traumas in hopes of eventually overcoming them. In other words, we’re drawn over and over to moments of destruction in the hope that we can change the past—even though we never can.
There’s no emo in the Smithsonian. There’s not even an emo museum in general, although that may change now that Polyvinyl owns the American Football House. But the true history of emo lies in its being an undercurrent, explosions of emotion that draw together disparate parts of the world like magnets. Home Is Where sounds a bit like Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West, which bridged the gap between indie and emo, but here, on the whaler, the band uses that sound to connect the societal breakdown in recent years to the traumas of the past. The only question is if we can ever escape.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.