Bands can astound listeners in plenty of different ways. A phenomenal vocalist can steal the show with soaring hooks; a well-trained guitarist can wow the crowd with an impeccable solo; a solid drummer can dominate from the back of the stage.
In the case of Baltimore’s Have Mercy, what wins out–and what ultimately astounds–is raw, unfiltered passion. A listen to the group’s 2013 debut LP The Earth Pushed Back reveals boundless energy throughout. It’s as if they were playing by their own rules when they recorded it…as if no one ever told them that they had to restrain themselves or color within the lines.
And that’s true, in a way. “We didn’t really know what we were doing,” frontman Brian Swindle admits about his band’s first recording experience. The vocalist/guitarist explains: “We wrote songs really quickly, and as soon as we were done we went into the studio to record.” While that may not seem like the best-laid plan, the result was a clear success: Without the burden of any expectations, Have Mercy delivered one of the most honest records of last year–an album that fans of punk and emo from Brand New to Tigers Jaw to Taking Back Sunday simply couldn’t afford to miss out on.
Digging in for LP2 was a different story, though, for Swindle, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Johnson, bassist Nick Woolford and drummer Todd Wallace. The band wanted to take their time during the writing and recording process for their Hopeless Records debut A Place Of Our Own, one of the most highly anticipated follow-ups of 2014. “The songs were more planned out, and we had [producer] Paul Leavitt giving input during pre- production, where we rearranged these songs over and over again until they were perfect,” Swindle says. Recording with Leavitt (All Time Low, The Dangerous Summer, many more) provided another distinct advantage: A more comfortable recording experience, because of the proximity of Leavitt’s Valencia Studios to the band’s hometown of Baltimore.
That comfort level shows up on A Place Of Our Own, which is out on October 27. It’s a refined, more muscular version of what they did well on The Earth Pushed Back, as if they trimmed the fat on some aspects of their sound while showing major growth across the board. It’s an organic, sometimes subtle and sometimes very noticeable type of growth. Everyone simply sounds better from an instrumental perspective, and
Swindle’s gritty vocals have become only more defining this go-round.
First single “Spacecrafts” puts on display Have Mercy’s ability to dig into intimate territory (“See, we’ve got a good thing / It’s a good thing when you’re with me”) without sacrificing memorable melodies and catchiness. Swindle’s strained vocals throughout the album provide the most cathartic moments. He yelps, “I was in every single picture you never hung on your wall / You put me on the back-burner / I will be there ‘til you need me in your life” during “Plastic Covered Furniture,” while on the album-closing “Lean,” he helps Have Mercy demonstrate its versatility as the band tackles a much darker tone.
Swindle admits that the album is a bit of a “breakup record”–he puts that in air quotes, laughing, “Aren’t they all?” But while relationship-centric themes do pop up throughout A Place Of Our Own (the aforementioned “Spacecrafts” is about all the happy, warm parts of a relationship, so it’s not all sad), there are also lyrics about wanting to better oneself as a human being.
What Have Mercy brings to the table is something resonating and something forceful, in an unabridged form. The band has now mastered their own style of no-frills indie-rock, an unapologetic, driving sound that begs listeners to scream along rather than hum quietly to themselves. A Place Of Our Own does more than just follow up a successful debut–it expands upon it and makes a clear-cut statement that Have Mercy is here to stay.