Album Review: Time Spent Driving – Passed & Presence

imageLike last year’s surprising yet ultimately triumphant return by The Jazz June, the re-emergence of California’s Time Spent Driving is another unexpected throwback to a time when emo wasn’t all about sweeping haircuts and guyliner.

The likes of recently reformed emo heroes Braid, Mineral and American Football all left a fine legacy before calling it quits – indeed, they all left a body of work which took on an almost mythic status prior to their respective reformations – yet it wouldn’t come as a shock if you missed Time Spent Driving (originally 1999-2003) the first time around.

Even though I spent a fortune on music (and mainly the classic emo sound from about 1995-02) during my time at university – which coincided perfectly with Time Spent Driving’s initial run – my knowledge of them stems back to a song on Deep Elm’s consistently excellent Emo Diaries series.

Even with easy access to the brilliant Tempest Records in Birmingham (now served by Ignite in the Oasis), two Tower Records, a multitude of DIY distros and a girlfriend working in HMV, getting hold of some of the more left-field emo albums took effort. For reference, I remember shelling out the best part of £25 on Miracle of 86’s first album. Repeat that a dozen times a year on a meagre student loan and you can see why it was simply impossible to keep up with all of the great bands being thrown at me from the other side of the world. Even now, with a disposable income and a more than burning desire to fill in the gaps, there’s new old bands out there to be discovered, making it a never ending cycle.

Which brings us nicely to this week’s best new old band – Santa Cruz’s Time Spent Driving.

Sitting snugly alongside luminaries such as Ex Number Five and Errortype 11, there’s a real emphasis on textures and soundscapes which build to epic chest-beating swells, it’s the sort of sound I adore. Throw in a real edge and punch then you’re looking at a comeback almost as epic as their songs.

But it’s not the first thing I noticed. Instead, the vocals remind me so much of a multitude of my favourite singers. There’s moments which recall the passion of Blair Shehan (Knapsack, The Jealous Sound), the conversational tones of Jon Plett (The Home Team, The Details) or the anguish of Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs). It’s an instant hook for you as you try and find a way in to the group’s dense, rhythmic music.

‘Passed & Presence’ does require a little work though. It’s not an accessible record, requiring multiple listens to really get the most out of it. But it really does reward persistence. There’s no knockout single, the closest being ‘Sheep Shaped Words’ which has a phenomenal chorus but relies on a pulsating, rhythmic verse to get there.

What ‘Passed & Presence’ does possess however, is numerous meandering epics. ‘Blame The Valley’ is just stunning, arguably one of the finest, most emotive songs of the year. The last 2 minutes (it’s an epic 6:30) are stupendous and well worth the journey to get there. Duelling overlapping vocals challenge for your attention before it explodes into a gorgeous instrumental outro.

But ‘Passed & Presence’ is blessed with deceptive depth, meaning Time Spent Driving don’t fall back on this failsafe too often. At first, the songs have to fight their way out from the denseness, but more condensed and accessible cuts such as ‘Weight of the Water’ or the soaring balladry of ‘Skin and Knees’ or ‘I’m Not Done With You Yet’ are uniformly excellent.

Overall, ‘Passed & Presence’ is an unexpected triumph. Reunion albums can be hit or miss, and bands reuniting on the back of the emo revival have a patchy track at best. For every ‘After the Earthquake’ there’s a ‘There Are Rules’. It seems the lesser lights are making a better fist of it than those more lauded – and falling into this group, Time Spent Driving definitely deserve your time and attention.


‘Passed & Presence’ by Time Spent Driving is out now on Cardigan Records.

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Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)


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