by Tom Alexander (@___alexd)
2017’s Hate It Here established Pom Pom Squad as a voice that resonated. Self-described as “Quiet Grrrl,” the EP was a grunge record in soft-focus: pleasant melodies, distorted guitars, and constrained percussion made for a tight, controlled record. It’s an EP with a bite, but a playful one. What set Hate It Here apart from all of Pom Pom Squad’s contemporaries was Mia Berrin’s in-the-moment vocal delivery and specific-but-relatable lyrics. If you weren’t the character in Berrin’s lyrics, then you at least could easily imagine one of your friends taking on that role.
Pom Pom Squad’s new EP, Ow, is a step above the already-great Hate It Here in every way. The songs are more polished, but they’ve lost none of the edge that made the Hate It Here songs so strong. The vocal hooks are stronger, the production clearer, and the song sequencing highlights Berrin’s strength for storytelling (more on that later). Overall, Ow is just bigger. The diaristic recordings of the last EP have gained about 10 pounds in pure muscle; it’s the same observant, beating heart, but its body is more confident and assertive. Take the first single, “Heavy Heavy.” Its loud electric guitar, sneering vocals, and strong hook make it an instant earworm and crowd-pleaser.
The biggest strength of Ow, however, isn’t just its singles, no matter how good they might be. What makes Ow so great a listen is its structure. Across these seven tracks, the EP takes on a cinematic structure, with “Ow (Intro)” serving as an impressionist opening credits scene and the final song, “Owtro,” mirroring many of those initial sounds. The middle five songs, then, take on the narrator’s story, and that character arc is reflected in both the lyrics and the arrangements themselves. “Heavy Heavy” and “Honeysuckle” are the early attention-grabbers (and first released singles) where a bad month has stretched into a bad month, that bad month has stretched into a bad break up. “Cherry Blossom” and “Again” slow the pace and strip back the production, reflecting both the narrator’s regret and sorrow. The climax, “Cut My Hair,” swells to a finale where the narrator finds some piece of relief in self-acceptance, and she’s able to move on.
If you wanted to take it on that level, you could. Ow has a story and themes for you to pick at and untie: a soundtrack for your (or someone-like-you’s) life. If you just wanted a solid 20 minutes of great song after great song, Ow can be enjoyed as a dynamic collection of singles. Whichever way to want to hear it, though, Pom Pom Squad has gotten bigger and better in the two years since Hate It Here. Pom Pom Squad’s attention to the big-picture might be their greatest strength, but its their knack for writing undeniable pop songs through a grunge filter that will keep you coming back again and again.