When a band loses a member, its whole identity can shift, and questions can linger in the air like the earthy odor after heavy rain. Flasher would know: After the D.C. melodic punk band’s breakthrough debut album, 2018’s Constant Image, bassist Danny Saperstein left the trio, leaving Taylor Mulitz and Emma Baker as a duo. (It might have felt karmic for Mulitz: Saperstein’s departure followed Mulitz leaving the fiery punk band Priests after it crested with 2017’s Nothing Feels Natural.) On Love Is Yours, Flasher’s first album without Saperstein, the now-duo—assisted by instrumentalist and co-producer Owen Wuerker—often sing quietly where they once playfully sneered, and their guitars often purr where they once roared. The album is a portrait of going through change, reckoning with the pessimism that can accompany it and experiencing clarity in spurts and bursts.
You won’t hear any explicit ill will toward former bandmates on Love Is Yours. Instead, the album surveys relationships and the psyche in broad strokes, with revelations popping up and then disappearing, much as they do in real life. Mulitz and Baker often whisper their melancholy into creeping minor-key melodies, and they sound like they’re working through their circumstances in real time, occasionally stumbling on the answers. On the dour rock ballad “All Day Long,” they sing, “Asking too much / Like the answer’s a given,” and it could stand in for the whole album’s journey: seeking truth and struggling to find it. At other points on the track, lyrics including “days are violence” and “thoughts are dull” surface as quickly as they fade: It’s tough to even consider that what lies on the other side of the muck might be defeat.
Flasher spend much of Love Is Yours gesturing at the void. “Nothing,” which is on the more uptempo side, yet still restrained, explodes into whirring distortion right after Mulitz and Baker sing, “When it’s all or nothing, you can count on nothing.” When they occasionally crack through the ether, they often find sheer hopelessness; when optimism does poke through, it’s chemically induced. “I’m on fire / You’re underwater / We’ve been ascending to chemical luxury,” the duo sing on “Still Life,” a jangly mid-tempo jaunt that sounds like Constant Image dialed down just a tad. Sometimes, the only way through hazy emotions is to temporarily after your mind, the fog’s very vessel.
As you might expect from a band that once bordered on power pop, Love Is Yours strikes most powerfully when Mulitz and Baker explore faster, more jubilant sounds. Groovy, playful electronics bring “Damage” to its conclusion, and it’s the closest Flasher have come to ditching sweaty basements for dancefloors. The album’s two short instrumental interludes—the honking riffage of “Spell It Out,” the funky wah of “Pink”—suggest more obviously hooky directions the duo could’ve taken. It’s just enough to make you pine for the attack of Constant Image, but you can still find it on Love Is Yours, just in a different shape.
Centerpiece “I’m Better” is the obvious example. The track blasts forward on acidic guitar lines and stomping pianos that evoke the lilted, yet thrilling stomp of Spoon’s 2007 masterwork Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. It’s a clear breakup anthem: “I’m better / Don’t think of you / In spite of all you put me through,” Baker intones. Yet joy abounds in the most unexpected of ways: Baker and Mulitz sing, “Living is so hard lately / Radiate the revelation through / And all of the answers escape me,” with confidence and elation that suggest an open-armed embrace of confusion. “The world is always ending,” Mulitz later sings. Flasher look outward and see change, and then look inward and accept it.
Sometimes, Max Freedman sits and writes about music, and sometimes, he just sits. Oh, and sometimes, he critiques, too. Follow him on Twitter and find his writing at Pitchfork, MTV News, The Creative Independent and, of course, here at Paste.