Into It. Over It’s Evan Weiss has a rock band for every occasion. When he’s looking to goof around, he turns to Pet Symmetry, and here they’ve made a record that feels like a sweet spot.
“You & Me & Mt. Hood”—
Evan Weiss sure knows how to compartmentalize. Last we heard from the multitasking Into It. Over It. songwriter, he was pouring out his heart on Standards, one of the more sophisticated albums to emerge from the emo revival, but Weiss has a band for every occasion. In his side project with Mike Kinsella, Their/They’re/There, he indulges his inner math-rock geek, paying homage to some of the more niche corners of Polyvinyl’s discography—much as his old project Stay Ahead of the Weather reveled in the sugary emo of groups like the Get Up Kids. His defining records have been passion projects crafted for people who love these genres as much as he does, but when he’s just looking to goof around, he turns to Pet Symmetry, his trio with a couple of Chicago pop-punk vets, Dowsing’s Erik Czaja and What Gives’ Marcus Nuccio.
Until now the group has mostly defined themselves by their love of puns. Their 2015 full-length Pets Hounds tossed them off at a clip seldom witnessed since Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!! phase, and in concert the band dials up the silliness even further, taking the stage in matching varsity jackets or Hawaiian shirts. In a certain light, there’s something radical about that irreverence, especially given the more serious tendencies of emo’s fourth wave. Acts like the Hotelier and the Wonder Years have raised the stakes with each record, documenting grief and depression in discomforting detail. Sorority Noise and Modern Baseball’s recent releases have doubled, sometimes literally, as suicide prevention hotline advertisements, giving emo a renewed sense of purpose. Meanwhile, Pet Symmetry have taken the opposite track, pulling back the curtain on one of emo’s great secrets: Behind all the sobering prose and artful conviction, there’s usually a bunch of guys who love sports and find it hilarious every time their drummer farts up their tour van.
On their sophomore album Vision, Pet Symmetry look to emo’s more carefree corners, particularly the pop-centric emo of bands like the Promise Ring and the Smoking Popes. Vision delivers on that promise of a good time. “St. John” sets its frothy mall-punk riff to a pogoing bassline, while Weiss breaks out a surprisingly convincing Frank Black impression on the manic, alterna-punk throwback “Eyesores,” one of several tracks that slide in under the two-minute mark. It’s all so brisk and agreeable that it takes a few spins to notice the band’s recalibration: They’ve dialed back the indiscriminate humor of Pets Hounds, bringing their songwriting closer in line with Weiss’ heartfelt Into It. Over It. output.
Punkier tracks like “Hall Monitor” and “Stare Collection” are fun without being overtly funny—no puns here—while a handful of weightier, dialed-down numbers suggest Weiss has begun treating the band as something more significant than a side project. “You & Me & Mt. Hood” even has the autobiographical setup of so many songs on Standards, detailing a lazy vacation day spent traversing a river, beers in hand, in the company of a friend. Unlike most tracks from that album, though, this one has a happy ending: The trip lifts his sunken spirits. “I can’t complain,” Weiss sings, “I’ve got a never-ending week, a couple loose plans and a peck on the cheek.”
The relatively low stakes flatter him. If there was one thing that held back Standards from being the masterpiece it clearly wanted to be, it was its overbearing need to be respected. From its first track, that record telegraphed its hopes of soundtracking the anxieties of an entire age group, but Vision is never so foolhardy in its ambitions—with their jocular image, Pet Symmetry would have you believe they don’t even have ambitions. They’re underselling themselves: Here they’ve made an album that’s lovable without needing to be loved, and insightful without feeling self-important. There are any number of directions Weiss and his bandmates could take a project as easy-going as this one, but Vision feels like a sweet spot.