There's a strange trope in music that paints summer as a time of joy, with the end of the season tinged with a sepia-stained nostalgia. There's little rose-tinted reminiscence on Hospital Bracelet's biting 'South Loop Summer', however, with the Chicagoan emo trio finding plenty to rail against as the season's change.
Throughout, Hospital Bracelet's Eric Christopher tackles topics such as relationships, loneliness, sobriety and abuse with unflinching candour. These may be emo staples, but don't expect any angsty melodrama here. For all the positive feelings conjured by a sunny Chicago, 'South Loop Summer' is less coming of age drama, more psychological horror. We may be early doors in 2021, but it's unlikely there'll be another album this year which is quite so unsettling or lyrically brave.
This is especially true on the likes of 'Feral Rat', 'Sheetz' and 'Happy Birthday', which possess graphic narratives. There's so much emotional heft throughout that 'South Loop Summer' is almost oppressive, like getting trapped under an avalanche and clawing through the snow for air.
This feeling of claustrophobia doesn't permeate through to the music, however, with 'South Loop Summer' instead serving as a bold sonic journey through propulsive pop-punk jams and twisted indie-rock slowburns. That an album can open with the wide-eyed bluster of Modern Baseball and end with the wounded heart of Big Thief further emphasises this broad range.
Considering the subject matter, it's testament to Hospital Bracelet's songwriting that 'South Loop Summer' warrants repeated listens, too. It's beautifully constructed stuff, thematically dense and so emphatically literate that Chicago's 'L' lives in every note. It might make for a difficult listen, but these Tales from The Loop demand to be heard.