Saves the Day Through Being Cool: TBC20
Published Oct 30, 2019By the time Saves the Day were recording their sophomore album, they were almost a completely different band, literally. Foreshadowing what would become something of a hallmark for the New Jersey group, in the year between the release of their debut, Can't Slow Down, and recording what became Through Being Cool, only singer Chris Conley and drummer Brian Newman remained of the original quintet. Even as it built on the creative and commercial success of its predecessor, Through Being Cool, being released for its 20th anniversary with all the usual bonus material, was in many ways Saves the Day re-introducing themselves for the first time.
Released on Equal Vision Records while the band were still in high school, Can't Slow Down was hardcore adjacent — they were down enough to book a tour with Bane, but their melodic qualities didn't exactly endear them to the audiences to whom they were playing. Nevertheless in writing its followup, the band leaned into the more melodic aspects of their debut, particularly standouts "The Choke" and "Always Ten Feet Tall."
Conley had yet to learn how to sing properly and you can hear him straining to hit the high notes (many lapsed fans would cite this as one of the missing elements from the band's later albums). But his melodies were infectious. Even as they forged their own musical path, though, their ambitions didn't divert far from the basements and VFW halls they knew from the hardcore circuit that birthed them. Guitarists Dave Soloway and Ted Alexander crafted a formidable dual guitar attack and the record's forward velocity has been attributed to the band's attempt to overpower expected hecklers.
Tellingly, Conley has cited Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape and Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come as the two biggest influences on the record's creation. They even used the former as a blueprint for the album's buzzy guitar tone. But he's also talked about the introduction of Joni Mitchell's folky confessional masterpiece Blue to his personal rotation.
While Mitchell towers over pretty much everyone who's come in her wake lyrically, it's telling that Conley's lyrics here are less diaristic than so many of the emo peers to whom Saves the Day are often compared. Personal fragments are scattered across the album — a girlfriend travelling in Costa Rica, guitarist Soloway driving the band van across the country. The record's far more imbued with (teenaged) nostalgia and romantic longing than stereotypical angst and ennui. "Rocks Tonic Juice Magic" far and away the album's most spiteful song, was nothing more than an exercise born out of Conley's first year creative writing class.
This anniversary version includes nine basement demos, including a version of "Hold," which was released on the acoustic self-released I'm Sorry I'm Leaving EP. They are true demos — rough and trebly — but they reveal how fully formed the songs were, even in their infancy, such was the level of preparation when you only had nine days to record an entire record. There are also eight live session tracks that capture the band in the thralls of early success.
Through Being Cool's impact in 1999 was immediate: the group quickly tripled their audience while carving out a clearer lane for the kind of melodic, emotive punk music they'd loved from bands like Jawbreaker and Lifetime. Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz and Gabe Saporta of Midtown and Cobra Starship fame have cited it as a major inspiration for their own bands. (Saporta even attended the fake party the band threw for the record's cover shoot.) Multiple publications have named Through Being Cool as one of the best emo records of all time.
In its wake, Saves the Day were quickly scooped up by Vagrant Records, which was in the process of turning itself into a turn-of-the millennium emo powerhouse; the band's labelmates included the Get Up Kids, Dashboard Confessional and Alkaline Trio. But Saves the Day would never be the same again. The lineup that made Through Being Cool stuck together for 2001's even more successful Stay What You Are, which took the band further away from their punk roots. Since then, the band have been something of a revolving door, with Conley the only constant. It's sound has mutated almost as much.
It's unfair to blame an artist for turning their back on music they created while they were still teenagers. I cringe when I think of some of the dreck that was sharing space with Through Being Cool in my CD deck. But the record touched a nerve and rather than trying to repeat it, Conley and company simply moved on to other, bigger things. So there's always been a sense of unfinished business hanging over the album. And while this reissue doesn't square the circle, it's about as close as fans are going to get to recapturing the spirit of its creation and discovery. (Equal Vision)