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Last year, I saw the Boston-based indie-rock trio Pet Fox in a small space with fake spiderwebs hanging from the low ceiling and Brooklynites cloaked in colorful costumes for Halloween. They’d released their new EP More Than Anything a few months prior; it was three patient, powerful tracks that paid attention to build-up and intoxicating basslines. I listened to the songs, especially the addictive “Imagine Why,” on repeat since they first came out. My binging, however, took on a different meaning once I suffered an abrupt breakup. Theo Hartlett’s emotive shouts, reiterating the vague yet prophetic refrain “To know is to feel / Imagine why, imagine why,” became a point of solace for me. But as I moved on from my personal sadness, every melody and every line seemed to reverberate with pain, or at least the vivid memory of pain, so I took a step back.
When the band broke into “Imagine Why” in Bushwick that October, though, everyone was dancing in unity. It was an obvious celebration. Animals, superheroes, and monsters were all moved by this poignant anthem that surrounded us like a forcefield. It was equally invigorating and protective. My friend was dressed as a raccoon, crouching on the floor to photograph the three members, who were visibly driven by something bigger than themselves, their instruments becoming an attachment to their bodies like limbs. The next day, I put on More Than Anything again and immersed myself back inside of its catharsis.
A Face In Your Life is Pet Fox’s third studio album, following 2018’s self-titled and 2019’s Rare Occasion. While their previous records were both self-produced, the band turned to Ethan Dussault at New Alliance Audio for production for this new LP as well as Seth Engel for mixing, the latter of whom is known for working with some of the most interesting Chicago acts such as Ratboys, Retirement Party, and plenty more.
There’s a chance that this change contributed to the brilliance of A Face In Your Life, which watches Pet Fox engage in larger, more moving songs than ever before, unafraid and trusting their shared instincts. It bursts with the cosmic energy I witnessed at their live show, evoking a range of emotions, like melancholy, ecstasy, security, understanding, and vehemence. Everything that it elicits is severe and deep like a wound or a first love. A great deal of this stems from the rich sonic landscapes; Hartlett and Morgan Luzzi are also in prolific, cult-followed shoegaze group Ovlov with Luzzi also having a history in the indie-rock band Palehound, while drummer Jesse Weiss is in the idiosyncratic post-punk band Grass Is Green. What I’m saying here is that Pet Fox is the perfect storm.
Every track on A Face In Your Life contains mesmerizing instrumental work and is textured with comforting familiarity. The opener “Settle Even” is one of the more quiet songs, lingering in a wavering, downtrodden sound for the most part, like a placid body of water — that is, until the crashing, all-consuming guitar solos take over, sending a rippling current. “Only Warning,” the following song, picks up the pace with its overwhelming urgency that culminates throughout the four minutes and grows into a colossal, chaotic blizzard. Hartlett’s hypnotic harmonies make it all the more magnetic; his last words are his repetition of the phrase: “Only warning / only wanting,” another murky but visceral mantra. It’s a stunning second track whose repetitive twinkling riffs feel reminiscent of the beginning of Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights except three times faster. “Undeserving You,” which comes much later, also exemplifies the group’s knack for building momentum; after withholding their utmost energy for about two minutes, they deliver a frenetic surge that serves as a satisfying payoff.
“While this may sound incredibly simplified,” the band said in the press release, “we really do just get together and play off of each others’ ideas, whether they were preconceived or pieced together in the moment.” This spontaneous chemistry is at the forefront of these songs; not only does Pet Fox’s music create a sense of togetherness within its listeners, but it exists within the three of the players. “Checked Out” has a playful ambiance with its fickle riffs and Hartlett’s frivolous vocals, and “Hesitate” haunts with its brooding bassline and patient drumming. It helps that the band cites both Weezer and Autolux as influences; it sums up their simultaneous ability to have a vibrant personality and shred in a Blue Album kind of way, while also tending to atmospheric, vulnerable walls of sound in a Future Perfect fashion.
The finale “Slows Me Down,” like the opener, finds power in delicacy, meandering slowly while Hartlett offers concise contemplations, “Picking up my old ways, not what I prefer / I’m always fighting to be heard.” The line matches the sentiment of the album artwork — an arm reaching out from underwater, trying to grab someone’s attention. His voice is fatigued but earnest, and not completely out of hope as he continues, “Aiming for something better than this / It can’t all be bad, I find it slows me down.”
No Pet Fox song is overly depressing or overly happy; I didn’t know “Checked Out” was an anti-capitalist track about people who don’t “give a damn about you until they realize that you hold some sort of worth that is valuable or cool to them” until I read their statement about it. I still don’t exactly know what the line “To know is to feel / Imagine why, imagine why” from “Imagine Why” means, but I don’t need to in order to feel its immensity. In fact, the abstract nature of the words makes them resonate even more. They’re never pushing any sort of story or meaning — they’re just guiding the listener into a place of feeling. It’s about fighting to be heard, but not dictating exactly what the interpretation will be. It’s therapeutic and necessary to have music that allows this. Pet Fox don’t just want you to listen to them, they want you to listen to yourself.