Go Hibiki’s new record, “At Home in the Dark World,” opens with a statement of purpose that for all of its conviction, comes off a little strong to frontman Ethan Uhl.
“I did not want to put those curse words in there,” he laughed.
But he makes his point with “what is something that will finally set me free/from this s---ty f---ing punk mentality?” in album opener “Who Is Me?”
That mentality is one that pretends to be inclusive, but is actually just as exclusive as all those cliques and clubs that made people like Uhl — who played video games and wanted to be in a punk band — an outcast in high school.
“I was dorky and weird,” he said. “I’ve always tried to maintain being open and letting people break the mold a little bit.”
That happens on Go Hibiki’s first full-length album, released in August, which starts as emotional pop punk, but winds up feeling much more open by the end after the album arcs through the highs and lows of Uhl and fellow songwriter Elizabeth Taillon’s thoughts.
Taillon (formerly of Lucky Penny) wrote a couple of songs (like album highlight “Meketre’s Tomb”) and the full band contributes to the finished form of songs, but Taillon credits Uhl with directing the album.
“The shape of the record was a meta thing that Ethan contextualized,” she said. “There was more of a reason behind it that was well thought out.”
The album starts with darker lyrics (see the above opening line) paired with more upbeat songs.
The key also shifts down every few tunes, until album centerpiece “An Ending Scene,” puts a full stop on the record with its soft acoustic guitar and Uhl’s plaintive lyrics seeing his life in movie scenes.
Then, as the record continues, the lyrics grow more and more hopeful, till the urgent finale “Black Midi,” which features vocal contributions from the whole band (and was also the most democratically written, as it was based off of a studio jam).
“Looking forward I’ve always sought forgiveness through my art,” guitarist Alasdair Lyon sings, and later, the chant “we can all go home.”
Uhl also gets self-referential throughout the record — one example is the line “this is who is I’m” in “Black Midi” a direct answer to album opener “Who Is Me?”
There are some other Easter eggs, like lyrics from “This is Blood” that namedrop other track titles from the record and a contradictory back-to-back ending lyric and opening line of “Good Water” and “At Home in the Dark World.”
Producer Chris Baumann, who really “gets” Go Hibiki, according to the band, recorded the album in Missoula at his studio, Black National, and oversaw (along with Uhl) some neat studio work like adding layered acoustic guitar and even banjo to the bridge of one cut. The last two tracks are connected with some guitar feedback, mimicking the space in between songs in a live setting.
“It adds a lot to it, for it to not be very boring sonically,” Uhl said.
Other bits — like repeated references to video games and corny TV shows, prove Uhl’s knack for grounding his lyrics in specificity and nostalgia, which makes the angst hit that much harder to those attuned to the world of Star Trek, Halo and spending hours trying to find that rare Pokemon (one lyric is a translation from the Vietnamese version of Pokemon Crystal, a detail that made Taillon laugh and Uhl excited).
“Video games are a kind of schlocky medium that have unintentional poetry,” Uhl said.
The band has caught a lot of momentum recently, from getting a cassette release through Corvallis, Oregon, label Secret Pennies to opening shows in town for bigger name acts like Summer Cannibals and Diet Cig.
But that momentum and the band’s chemistry are making the band think they should take the winter off from live shows to work on the follow-up to “At Home in the Dark World.”
“Songs are born a lot quicker and they’re really, really good right off the bat,” Taillon said. “We really like doing this with each other — with a lot of fun and no ego.”