If someone asked me, “What is ‘emo’ and what does it sound like?” I would hand them All Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today and say, “This is what it would sound like in a better world.” Of course, we all know that the world in which this record could exist in its proper context doesn’t exist anymore because so many people have forgotten what “emo” really is. “Emo” is an abbreviation of “emo-core,” which is itself an abbreviation of “emotional hardcore.” Bands in this sub-genre of punk were just as concerned with volume and velocity as their predecessors, but they used their songs to write specifically about the inner workings of their hearts, something that you couldn’t really accuse the Ramones, the Clash, or even Minor Threat of doing. Nowadays, too many guys with guitars are writing either melodramatic declarations of puppy love or fake surrealist poetry and calling it “emo.” In a world where people refer to Weezer as an “emo” band without a single trace of irony, a record like this is a breath of fresh air that shows the world how “emo” is supposed to be done.
Che Arthur is better known as a member of Atombombpocketknife, Chicago’s answer to the mighty (and dearly departed) Unwound. There are much worse bands to emulate than Unwound, but so far the ABPK haven’t really brought anything new to the table. Fortunately, Che’s first solo effort sounds nothing like either band. If anything, the most direct influence on this album is mid-period Husker Du. I heard their masterwork Zen Arcade for the first time this year, and hearing Bob Mould scream “I will never forget you/I will never forgive you” while making one guitar sound like three instantly put at least a decade’s worth of the music I listened to in perspective. On some of Che’s songs, he rages like Mould (“Sunrise Motel,” “This Changes Nothing,” “Chains”), whereas on others he croons like Grant Hart (most of the album’s mellower second half). No matter which side of the coin you flip, Che’s music is pure “emo” through and through. He expresses his emotions concisely and empathetically; his guitars blur the line between lead and rhythm; his voice drips weariness and conviction. Sometimes he sounds as if he’s confused about what notes to sing, afraid that the guitars will completely drown him out. More often than not, though, his strained, croaking voice suits the tone of his music quite well.
This album’s two major themes seem to be failure and loss. The protagonist of “Sunrise Motel” feels like he’s the only one in the world who doesn’t have his life together. “Valley of Fire” inverts the theme by letting its protagonist sing about another person’s failure. It sounds almost as if the Che in this song is singing back to the Che that sang “Sunrise Motel.” “Farewell” (which rides a riff that Kurt Cobain would have killed to write) finds Che shell-shocked by a breakup that he pretends not to have seen coming. The song ends on a note of resignation and strength: “Now it’s time to learn to live without you.” That phrase pops up in a slightly different form on “The Black Hills”: “We learn to live without somehow.” In Che’s world, people find themselves unable to cope with loss, be the loss through breakup or death, and this inability grinds their own lives to a halt. “Words Are Impossible” is an acoustic gem that Dashboard Confessional would have killed to write. The title explains it all: it’s about the moments in which one’s emotions, however simple they might be, are felt so strongly that they can’t be clearly articulated.
All of Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today benefits from brevity and good sequencing. Ten songs breeze by in twenty-seven minutes, without a single one overstaying its welcome. The album’s lone instrumental, “Heresies,” comes right when most listeners would start to get sick of Che’s iffy singing. Apparently, another EP’s worth of material was recorded during the sessions that yielded this album. It is scheduled to see release in the spring of next year. One thing’s for sure: I’m looking forward to it MUCH more than I am to the next Atombombpocketknife record.