It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album that’s leapt forth from my stereo speakers with such determination to restore my faith in indie rock. Within the first twenty seconds of "Is This Thing On?", the leadoff track from Nothing Feels Good, I cast my vote for the Promise Ring as "Most Likely to Vanish in a Puff of Buddha-Like Perfection." With a sound like Superchunk on Red Bull, the Promise Ring play tight anthemic power-pop with the devoted, passionate energy of true believers.
The high couldn’t last forever, though; after the smoke cleared, it turned outthat Nothing Feels Good strongly hints at the Ring’s promise, but never fully delivers. The Achilles’ heel of the album, for me at least, is the dearth of lyrics. Davey von Bohlen ends up singing the same three lines over and over– and he sure sings the hell out of them– but repeating anything more than ten times can really take the piss out of a good song. It’s a minor blemish on an otherwise damn good album.
"Is This Thing On?" sets expectations abnormally high for the rest of the disc, but on the whole, Nothing Feels Good performs admirably. The extraneous background chatter that kicks off "A Broken Tenor" sets the scene for a hiney-kicking dance party. "Perfect Lines" and "B is for Bethlehem" follow in the footsteps of "Is This Thing On?", upbeat and bouncy, with just a tinge of melancholy for flavor. Luckily, the Promise Ring never let the melancholy get out of hand, even on slower songs like the title track. Von Bohlen is smart enough not to indulge in overwrought emoting, letting lines like, "I don’t own any albums/ I don’t know anything/ I don’t go to college anymore," reverberate with post-grad ennui on their own.
Although they have more in common musically with Knapsack than Rites of Spring, it’s worthy to note that the Promise Ring has a strong fanbase in the emo community, mostly due to the fact that the band’s members were previously in more emo-like bands. While they’re definitely at the accessible end of the emo spectrum (if on the spectrum at all), there’s no denying an emotional depth in the music that you don’t normally hear in similar-sounding albums. As a result, the Promise Ring winds up neatly avoiding the negative aspects of both power-pop (often chirpy and vapid) and emo (melodramatic, too much screaming). Keep an eye on these guys; they have an almost frightening amount of potential.