by Erin Bensinger (@_babybluet)
Jangly guitars, sharp hi-hats, and the sonic equivalent of that “Oh god, I shouldn’t have had that third cup of coffee” feeling come together flawlessly on Choral Reef’s debut EP. Appropriately titled gotta get to work, the tape energetically confronts the painful reality of what it means to be an artist in a world where your worth is often defined by what you do to make money.
Songwriter Jimmy Sullivan, formerly the guitarist of the Midwest emo outfit Oliver Houston, uses this project to experiment with a style somewhere between new wave and indie pop while keeping the emo lyrical sensibilities strongly intact. It’s a refreshing combo, and it shines the brightest on the titular track “gotta get to work,” which pairs a bright, driving rhythm and catchy guitar melodies with understated, almost droning vocals. The lyrics touch on the mundane ritual of planning one’s days in the face of long shifts and the importance of taking time to rest in between; at the end of the track Sullivan pairs the refrain “don’t wake me up now, I’m not ready for that” with a slick tempo change and a foot-shuffling hi-hat beat, evoking the racing feeling of realizing you’ve slept through the snooze alarm.
It’s followed by the excellent “my friends and our jobs,” a frenetic 55-second interlude that matter-of-factly lists the names of people and the nature of their employment, each one punctuated by despairing, dissonant guitar chime. The words are spoken plainly and without much emotion, but the frantic, almost improvised bursts of noise throughout convey pangs of existential dread not unlike the one you might feel when an acquaintance asks you “what do you do?” (For the record, Sullivan works at a juice bar.)
The tape closes out with “eatin’ good,” a funk-tinged pop track driven by wet, layered guitars and a drum machine. Sullivan allows his vocals to drive the melody for the first time on the tape, harmonizing with himself in a way that sounds both confident and vulnerable. It’s technical yet palatable; complicated yet easy. Balancing precise, skilled instrumentation with life’s biggest questions and distilling it all into sweet, relatable tunes is Sullivan’s greatest strength as a songwriter, and it’s that strength that makes Choral Reef so damn fun to listen to.