By Brendan Nagle
Power pop ace Chris Farren (formerly of Fake Problems) and DIY icon Jeff Rosenstock are perhaps as best-suited a pair as there is in rock. As Antarctigo Vespucci, they’ve self-released an album and an EP, but their latest after a move to Polyvinyl Records, “Love in the Time of E-mail,” the title a sly nod to the Gabriel García Márquez novel, is their strongest work yet. Fans of the high-energy punk rocker may be disappointed to learn that Rosenstock’s vocals are mostly absent from the record, but Farren is no slouch himself. His higher-pitched wail has a timbre that recalls the nasally shouts of Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan.
“I broadcasted your face onto my TV screen,” goes the opening line of the album’s first track. “Voicemail,” firmly establishes the theme of love in the digital age that runs throughout the album. Instead of taking a chance on reconnecting with an old flame, Farren just ends up reading through their old email correspondences. If we dwell for a moment on the record’s title, and the oddness of exchanging romantic e-mails, we are confronted with a startling realization: the “time of email” does not necessarily refer to the right now of 2018. And indeed, “Love in the Time of E-mail,” though not rooted entirely in the past, is infused with a bittersweet nostalgia for the earlier days of the digital age, back when important personal communication happened via email, and people still had answering machines.
This nostalgia is perhaps best illustrated on the aptly-titled “Breathless on DVD.” Farren is brought back to “the dead of winter 2009,” and memories of swatching the French New Wave classic with an ex-lover. “Are you still 27 and mad at me?” he asks, backed by muted synth pads and digital plunks, before going on to wonder how the thought of such an old romance still has the power to make him “crumble.” Heavier guitars come in for the full-bodied bridge as Farren cleverly riffs on the words of “Breathless” star Jean-Paul Belmondo, claiming “I wanted to see you to see if I still wanted you.”
But not every song explicitly concerns itself with existence in the digital world; the duo save room for a few straightforward power-pop tunes as well. In fact the album’s more consistent theme is simply romantic anxiety. “I hope you still want me around/I hope I’m not freakin’ you out” Rosenstock and Farren shout together on “Freakin’ U Out,” but their nervous lyrics are undermined by the song’s warm synth lines and buoyant energy. “Another Good Thing” is an even stronger pop song, channeling the scuzzy guitar riffs of Superchunk and the potent hooks of Weezer in equal measure. They even squeeze in a power ballad towards the end. “Lifelike” starts off with just piano and strings until the the guitars kick in, and the song becomes a full-fledged rock anthem.
The duo’s skill for pop songwriting is never more apparent, though, than on “Kimmy,” the record’s standout track. Stuffed with some of the catchiest hooks either has ever written, the song is pop punk bliss in its purest form. For all of “Love in the Time of E-mail”’s modern themes and pop culture references, it is the simple power of sizzling guitar riffs and perfect pop melodies that make it such a visceral pleasure.