Sensory Overload: Emily & the Complexes

From the August 23, 2012 edition

Let me rag on the name for a minute. “Emily & the Complexes” is an unnecessarily clumsy string of syllables, especially considering none of the members is named Emily or even has a uterus. They don’t cross-dress either. After Girls and Women and Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s — all fine bands, mind you — I think we’ve all had our fill of gender-oriented wink-wink nod-nod.

The music, on the other hand, is OK. In categories other than band-naming, recent Ohio University export Tyler Verhagen and his associates don’t subject themselves to conceptual clutter. They play straightforward guitar pop steeped in gravelly Midwest alt-country lineage and irreparably marked by the dying days of alternative radio.

Put it this way: If you made a mix featuring Uncle Tupelo’s “The Long Cut,” The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen,” the “Party of Five” theme song and Pixies’ “Gouge Away,” you could tack Emily & the Complexes on there and not miss a beat.

Friday at Skully’s, they brought their no-frills live show to the highly frilled confines of Skully’s. A few times they came close to making me a believer, but not yet.

Verhagen began with a solo ballad that I hoped would eventually explode into a grand finale because I’ve always loved that trick. But it was not to be; the tears-in-your-beers jangle simply concluded, and only then did they launch into loudness.

From there it all blurs together. Verhagen’s vocal melodies were simple but satisfying, and when the musical and emotional bombast demanded it, he pulled off a passable throat-shred. The guitars and bass blurred into dense textures that suited this music well. Titles like “Styrofoam Plate Blues” and “I Don’t Want To Brush My Teeth” nodded to the post-collegiate squalor that lingers along with that nagging question, “What next?”

The members of Emily & the Complexes are at that stage of their adult life, and they seem to be at that point in their creative timeline, too. They know how to man their instruments and function as a unit. Now they’ve just got to step up their songwriting game. Nothing Friday grabbed me by my shoulders and shook me. It was like eating vanilla ice cream with no toppings — sweet, but not appetizing enough to justify the commitment.