The hard truth is, no matter how many albums we review each year, there are always countless releases that end up overlooked. That’s why, this month, we’re bringing back our
No Album Left Behind
series, in which the Paste Music team has the chance to circle back to their favorite underrated records of 2021 and sing their praises.
Throughout the course of 2021, a new term surfaced that dominated online discourse: fifth-wave emo. Emo, since its inception, has been subjected to relentless taxonomy, categorized into numerous waves that each exemplify a particular style. The third wave consists of cathartic, heart-on-your-sleeve acts like Taking Back Sunday and Dashboard Confessional. Then came the fourth wave, an emo revivalism inspired by the dominance of indie bands, such as The Hotelier and Joyce Manor. Now, according to the internet, fifth-wave emo is in full force. The Washington, D.C., duo Origami Angel fall under this putative fifth wave, but, as emo bands have invariably done, they pave their own path within the genre. Origami Angel’s double album from this spring, GAMI GANG, is unalloyed emo bliss.
Generally, emo music suggests a sort of despondence. Artists frequently sing about topics like heartbreak and abandonment, yet emo doesn’t always have to be so dispirited. Guitarist-vocalist Ryland Heagy and drummer Pat Doherty present an alternative. GAMI GANG is an exuberant, nostalgic record about The Good Old Days of watching Pokémon and eating Taco Bell with your friends at 3 a.m., as “Caught in the Moment” testifies. It’s an album about companionship and the simple joys of hanging out with your friends. “That guy with the best fucking friends (that’s me!),” Heagy shouts on “Neutrogena Spektor.” “They make me feel loved, and they make me happy / I could live my whole life and never try to be / the epitome of what you think is pretty.”
Most of GAMI GANG focuses on friendship and, as a song title like “Neutrogena Spektor” demonstrates, there are plenty of laughably awful puns along the way. There’s “Bed Bath & Batman Beyond,” there’s “Tom Holland Oates” and there’s “Noah Fence,” to name a few. Heagy and Doherty relish not taking themselves too seriously, and it makes an album that’s over 50 minutes long go by relatively quickly. “Noah Fence,” for instance, details a story about a “man walking up to the front door with a Bible, a suit and a cross” who extols the virtues of Heaven. Though Heagy claims it’s too late for him to convert to Christianity, the visitor keeps telling him about heaven, and he says “it sounds a lot like when I’m with you.” It’s a charming story that takes an unexpected turn, and GAMI GANG is absolutely laden with them.
Ultimately, GAMI GANG is nothing short of a great time, and you can virtually hear how much fun the duo have while playing these songs together. After all, this is a band that once released an EP entirely dedicated to the third generation of Pokémon games (even including the often overlooked edginess of Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness). Although GAMI GANG’s lyrical material scarcely goes beyond fun and humor, it doesn’t need to. That’s the entire point of Origami Angel’s music. The duo often wax nostalgic about great times with friends, and their storytelling is interspersed with moments of guitar-hero showmanship and rhythmic breakdowns. “Self-Destruct” pairs Doherty’s rapid-fire double-kick drums with Heagy’s chugging guitar, perfectly in sync. “Möbius Chicken Strip” is another shining example of how both members understand each other; Heagy and Doherty lock in with each other’s playing, and it signifies the unerring, deep camaraderie that Heagy often speaks of in his lyrics.
Although the band’s 2019 debut album, Somewhere City, is great in its own right, GAMI GANG captures Origami Angel at their apotheosis. This is a double album that showcases, in the parlance of Pokémon, the band’s evolution. The lyrics aren’t profoundly deep, but thats doesn’t mean GAMI GANG itself doesn’t speak to something grander than what it initially insinuates. After all of the strife that’s occurred over the past couple of years, Origami Angel have provided us with something of a salve. As Heagy and Doherty sing in their shout-along gang vocals on one of the album’s standout tracks, “We’ll be so caught in the moment.” GAMI GANG catches them in their moment.
Grant Sharples is a writer based in Kansas City. He has contributed to MTV News, Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Ringer, SPIN and others. Follow him on Twitter @grantsharpies.