By Henry Schmidel
Schmaltz (noun): Excessive sentimentality, especially in music or films.
Los Angeles-based pop-punk band Spanish Love Songs made a splash last March with their sophomore album, Schmaltz. Singer Dylan Slocum describes the album as trying to find “a positive way to handle the loss of those closest to him while inching towards self-acceptance in a world that doesn’t always feel like home.” A thirty-nine-minute roller coaster of emotions, the album’s eleven songs provide both band and audience a cathartic outlet for the struggles life throws at you.
The first track, “Nuevo,” is a slow, anthemic response to Slocum’s ever-increasing age. No longer the young punk he used to be, it invokes the same feeling as The Menzingers’ 2017 album After the Party—especially with the eerie similarity between the vocals of The Menzingers’ Greg Barnett and SLS’s Slocum—yet there’s a clear difference. While Barnett is living his dream, a successful musician touring the world, Slocum is, as “‘Nuevo”’ so eloquently states, “pushing thirty, still playing house shows / Waking up on beer-soaked floors alone.” As the song nears its end, it rises in a roar of instrumental sound, dropping fluidly into the next song, “Sequels, Remakes, and Adaptations,” a quick-paced confession of Slocum’s fears that maybe he’s the one causing all the bad things that happen.
Near the middle of the album, Slocum breaks out his first full song about death, “Otis/Carl.” It’s a crushing story about life after the death of his grandfather, a life where he breaks out in tears when he sees the old guitar his grandfather bought him, named after Otis Redding, his grandfather’s favorite singer. The entire song is sung to the deceased, an apology for Slocum’s failures. “And I’m on the docks again / Looking out at that awful ocean / Watching the tide take you away,” he shouts in the chorus, the imagery simplistic but powerful.
The raw power of “Otis/Carl” somehow manages to be topped by the last song in the top half of the album, “The Boy Considers His Haircut,” wherein Slocum makes sure to remind us that among the great struggles of his life, the little things aren’t looking much better. After a quick hook, he starts off strong with a simple, likely true, statement: “My dad says that I’d probably have more fans / If I could learn to sing about some happier s—.” By the time he reaches the bridge, where this track truly shines, he’s resigned himself to small wishes. He wants to wake up and maybe be better. He doesn’t want to be second- guessed. He wants his nose to be fixed so he can breathe properly. He doesn’t want to be depressed. Really, all he wants is to find a haircut that looks nice on him, but they’ve all been co-opted by Nazis.
Schmaltz comes to an end with the acoustic “Aloha to No One.” The title alone has a lot of meaning. The word aloha is used not only for greeting and parting, but also more directly translates to “joyfully sharing life.” Not only is Slocum closing out with a goodbye to no one—the audience he expects after years of playing in basements—he’s reminding us that he’s living a depressing, lonely life. This is reflected in the lyrics, which provide a crushing response to the hopefulness and willpower of “Haircut.” He won’t wake up and be better. Others might not, but he’ll always second guess himself. Even if his nose is fixed, there will still be problems. He might someday find a the haircut that fits him, but he’ll always look awkward. Lastly, and most importantly, he might be fine, but he’ll never be his best. Not everyone gets a happy ending, and Slocum is pretty sure he already missed his chance.