Published Sep 10, 2019After a brief hiatus, Somos have returned reinvigorated and newly inspired. After making two solid albums occupying that nexus of indie rock, punk and emo, they burnt themselves out on touring, took a break to regroup, and then rediscovered their passion for music, coming out the other end with something new and fresh.
It's a significant growth moment for the Boston-based band, and the resulting third record is altogether more ambitious and especially worthy of note than anything they've done previously. So it's a shame that the album is now and forever linked to a painful tragedy — the death of the band's 28-year-old guitarist, Phil Haggerty, just a couple months before the planned release of Prison on a Hill.
This is a record that pushes Somos toward full-on guitar-pop, drawing influence from '80s-laced acts like The 1975 and Chvrches and underpinning it all with elements of rock, new wave and synthpop. They've taken a similar path to ones that punk-rooted groups like Ceremony have also taken lately — the '80s are certainly in fashion here in the late '10s — but they manage to not sound too much like anything else.
This iteration of Somos is captured best on "My Way to You," a beautifully written, heart-filling song that melds lush synth, Mark Hoppus melodies and guitar riffs that are halfway between U2 and the Offspring. Prison on a Hill combines elements that get a greater role at some points than others; Somos are more rock-driven on songs like "Untraceable Past" and "Dreamless," they get extra synthy on "Absent and Lost" and "The Granite Face," and they even test the dance floor with "Farewell to Exile."
And what often seems like upbeat, carefree music is more often than not predicated on serious, pointed politics. "Iron Heel" uses its catchy choruses to warn of the omnipresent threat of authoritarianism in the U.S. and elsewhere. "Mediterranean" is a perfectly paced and expertly crafted pop song that attacks the far-right, anti-refugee sentiment in Europe with pointed resentment of its inhumanity. "New Blood" charges into the national symposium on gun violence: "New blood on their feet again / It doesn't really matter how long it's been … When it starts, your time's up / I can't wait much longer."
The tragic circumstances of Prison on a Hill have been a big part of its narrative so far — and the line, "Thank you for the best years of your precious life," from "My Way to You," is devastating in this context — but the album itself was not born out of this tragedy. It was born out of outrage, bravery, integrity and, ultimately, hope. With emotionally and politically attuned pop songs good enough to satisfy the punks or the "normies," Somos have crafted a record worth hearing for a multitude of reasons. (Tiny Engines)