Self-reflection, depression and occasional self-hatred recur in darker hardcore, but Stranger Songs reaches new levels of desolation. Following a series of EPs, including last year’s split with The Saddest Landscape, My Fictions’ debut full-length is easily the band’s best work. It’s varied, cohesive—structurally and emotionally—and compelling. It’s also the kind of album that should prompt the band’s family and friends to check in with the people who wrote it.
Stranger Songs repeatedly pays homage to Leonard Cohen, the iconic folk singer’s “The Stranger Song” in particular. Two tracks feature excerpts from a 1965 interview in which Cohen tries to explain the nature of his poetry to television personality Pierre Berton, who remarks of Cohen’s seemingly carefree attitude, “How can you write poetry if you’re not bothered by something?” My Fictions picks up Cohen’s knack for writing gut-wrenching songs about depression, only the band writes straightforward prose to crushing rhythms.
Similarly, My Fictions’ searing “Mt. Misery” complements Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery,” with the former stripping the delicate poetry and restraint from the latter. “Do you know the weight of collapsing into yourself?” asks frontman Bryan Carifio. Then he sets a scene in which an escapist wanders down a trail outdoors, consumed by destructive thoughts.
Stranger Songs presents a number of concerning confessions. On “Stubborn,” Carifio gives up on attempting to relate to others. On “Lower (A Selfish Song),” he compares himself to a dying dog. And “Parking Lot” was apparently conceived in the immediate aftermath of a heated exchange between two people, as Carifio annotates the song with a few self-referential lines about writing lyrics on his phone while driving.
My Fictions’ musical influences are more recent, as Stranger Songs is a heavy, dark hardcore record with some screamo leanings. Carifio’s vocals are more vulnerable and on-edge than is usual for a band with such ravaging instrumentals. The resultant tone is like a cross between Birds in Row and the much meaner All Pigs Must Die—unsurprisingly so, since the drumming often evokes Ben Koller’s staggering talent. The off-kilter blasts in “Wake Anxious” and “Postcard,” notably, each pave the way for a thrilling rhythmic stampede. And the measured post-hardcore of “Parking Lot” precedes a shrieking, rapid-fire guitar part that’s full-on Deafheaven.
“Contrition” is about trying to write a song from a newfound perspective but getting bogged down by the same old anxieties. On Stranger Songs, that anxiety arrives in spades. The record was written entirely in first-person. Half of these songs explicitly refer to feeling “low.” And every song asserts self-deprecating traits, some more devastating than others. My Fictions may not reach the subject of self-proclaimed “suicidal songs that you’ll never read along to,” but the band certainly deserves to reach listeners hungry for well-crafted hardcore.