Sensory Overload: Emily & The Complexes make great music, lousy life partners

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From the December 19, 2013 edition

Judging solely by his lyrics, Emily & the Complexes singer/guitarist Tyler Verhagen must be a terrible boyfriend.

In one song he talked about letting his appearance gradually decay (“I don’t want to take a bath”), and in a second his budget woes put a significant damper on his ability to wine and dine a prospective partner (“I don’t buy you drinks when I take you out,” he sighed on the appropriately titled “Yer Boyfriend (Is a Cheapskate)”). At another point the singer, his voice battered and broken, howled about having “no means to impress you.” Rather than throwing his arms in the air in surrender, however, he threw them at his instrument, bashing out a distorted, snarling riff that mirrored his growing frustrations.

The local indie-rock quartet, which hit 4th St. Bar & Grill for a 30-minute concert on a recent Thursday, tended to immerse itself in those small frustrations and tiny victories that pile up over the course of a day, week, month and lifetime.

At times the lanky Verhagen sounded ready to pack it in. On “I Don’t Wanna Brush My Teeth” he numbly shuffled along with a level of detachment reminiscent of Bill Murray’s character in “Lost in Translation.” Other times he found reason to soldier onward. A new tune with the working title “Josh’s Song,” for one, was written about a band friend who recently became a father, and that sense of wonderment carried throughout its entirety.

The various emotional shades that surfaced in the music were further reflected in the stage lighting, which continually shifted from blue to orange to white as the band played.

Generally, the sentiments in the songs were as raw as the music itself. When Verhagen yelped about feeling disconnected from a lover, the backdrop matched the ache in his voice, piling on ragged guitar and slumped drums. Another new tune (working title: “Alien Song”) found the frontman singing about his frayed nerves as the band bashed away like it was trying to fry the bar’s circuit breaker.

It was a glorious, cathartic moment, and even more reason to be excited for the new EP Emily & the Complexes is hoping to record sometime this January. Perhaps if it’s successful, ladies, the next round is finally on them.