The first single from The Petals’ sophomore album, Meld, is titled “What If Being Dead Sucks?” It’s a good question — what if there’s no afterlife? Or there is, and it’s nothing special?
“I wanted to write a song from the perspective of someone who had taken all the steps [to commit suicide] and realized in a comedic way, you know, what if it is worse than I am already,” says frontman Aaron Sheedy.
That sense of existentialism runs throughout Meld. Other tracks, like “Save Yesterday,” build on this feeling, such as when Sheedy sings, “Angry tired hopelessness / it does exist / you do exist.” Sheedy notes that he often workshops lyrics until he doesn’t “sound like a phony saying them.”
The band came together about a year ago, stemming from Sheedy’s solo project of the same name. Now, he’s joined by drummer Colin Humphrey, guitarist Mike Heitzenrater and bassist Daniel Grushecky. With a fleshed-out lineup, there’s a new sense of balance to the band’s sound. The dreamy, often-reverbed guitars are brought back to earth by the feet-on-the-floor rhythm section. It’s a sound the band calls, half jokingly, “ambient groove,” with the guitars providing the former and the rhythm section the latter.
But “ambient groove” could also refer to the experimental structure of the songs. The songwriting has an improvisational, meandering feeling to it, without veering into self-indulgent long-windedness. There’s often a push and pull to the songs, an explosion followed by restraint — slow, melancholy guitar on its own, then the whole band comes in at once.
The Pittsburgh-based band’s influences include the likes of The Antlers and Elliot Smith. Its own sound, however, leans sometimes toward the lilt of a slow Velvet Underground song, and at other times, toward the almost-surf-rock of Mac DeMarco. The band also ventures into the psychedelic, with distant, overlapping voices, frantic guitar and high-pitched violins.
Meld is due out June 30, with a tour in the works for September. Death might suck, but being alive and listening to The Petals ain’t half bad.