On 'Misery,' EKKSTACY's Catchy Pop Needs a Content Warning

On 'Misery,' EKKSTACY's Catchy Pop Needs a Content Warning
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The juxtaposition of catchy melodies and sad lyrics has been commonplace since the dawn of pop music, but it's hard to think of anyone who has played up the contrast quite as starkly as EKKSTACY. Misery, the 20-year-old Vancouver artist's second full-length in as many years, is devastatingly grim; a quick scan of the tracklist reveals titles like "wish i was dead," "i want to die in your arms" and "i want to sleep for 1,000 years," making this an album that quite literally deserves a content warning.

EKKSTACY combines the bleak SoundCloud emo delivery of Lil Peep with the peppy new wave melancholia of the Drums and a dash of pop-punk revival. It would make perfect sense if Travis Barker were in the producer's chair; instead, Misery is produced in part by Suzy Shinn, whose past work with Weezer, Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco gives a sense of the musical lineage EKKSTACY is entering.

The single "wish i was dead" is the main draw here: a 98-second burst of new wave pop that takes the mascara-streaked jangle of the Cure and somehow makes it even more gothic and depressing, with a cloud-scraping chorus that might be euphoric if not for the explicit suicidal ideation.

Opening track "i just want to hide my face" is nihilist manifesto about finding comfort in death — with the twist that EKKSTACY offers comfort in life in the form of a gorgeously unfurling chorus of overlapping voices that echo each harrowing sentiment. The spiky "i gave you everything" touches on punky alt-rock, while late-album tracks "eyeliner" and "ausgang" introduce acoustic balladry into EKKSTACY's shadowy palette, giving a sense of what it might have sounded like if Elliott Smith had access to SoundCloud.

There's the occasional moment when the morbidity is simply overwhelming — particularly the distortion-laced self-flagellation of "christian death" — but that's the balance that most of Misery strikes: offering solace from the same depression that EKKSTACY sings about. (UnitedMasters)