It’s easy for I Was Totally Destroying It to polarize the crowds that tend to flock to Chapel Hill’s Local 506 and Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle. Indeed, that was my experience when I first saw the quintet at the 506, sandwiched between Red Collar’s crusty rock and Megafaun’s back-porch indie folk: Overflowing with youthful spunk and pushing lightweight guitar-and-synth-based fare, Totally Destroying It’s punk-pop bordered at times on cloying. While infectious for some, it was just grating for others.
Along with last year’s Done Waiting EP, The Beached Margin marks another step away from I Was Totally Destroying It’s almost giddy debut, as the Chapel Hill quintet matures and moves into darker territory both sonically and lyrically. Washes of icy synth and jagged electric guitar apply a glossy sheen to the ominous verses of lead track “The Witch Riding Your Back,” though an intertwining dual guitar attack and propulsive drums shift the chorus into a charge behind Rachel Hirsh’s soaring lead vocal. Squealing guitars and pounding drums emerge through a cavernous echo in the bridge, a final drum fill providing a launching point for 90 closing seconds of revved guitars, squelching synthesizers and vocal swaps. John Booker beats the song’s refrain”the witch can’t be far”into the ground.
The songs that follow can’t match “Witch,” but they can come close. Hirsh gives nods to Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs on “Fences” as she reflects on protecting herself from the “wolves” that might wreck her life. The fairy tale-referencing tune opens with fuzzed-out synth and portentous guitar that build to a gooey center of pop perfection, Hirsh belting out the pre-chorus over arena-sized guitar riffs and layering her voice with Booker’s harmony in the chorus. “Negative Agents” is a half-paranoid, half-promising view of youth and love: “So young to have it all worked out/ should be two steps behind and need a mess of help,” Hirsh sings over a chilly soundscape painted by stabs of electric guitar. The acoustic closer, “Me and All My Friends,” is the lone track to feature Booker’s lead vocal. It’s an open, irresolvable internal struggle that finds Booker conflicted over his friends’ desires to move on and his inability to follow.
Released by Portland’s Greyday Records, the new four-track EP is paired with the seven songs from the Done Waiting EPwhich I Was Totally Destroying It made available as a free download last yearon 12″ vinyl. Though we reviewed Done Waiting shortly after its October release, it bears repeating that the EP is another gem. With one exception”The Witch Riding Your Back” was tracked in Marchthe songs are culled from 18 tunes recorded last August and share similar qualities: dark themes and more dueling vocals and guitars that suggest The Forecast or a less synth-heavy The Anniversary. The title track is the standout, a harsh farewell sung by Hirsh, complete with the cold realization, “I think I liked you best when you were sleeping,” while “Like Cavalry” is a charming slice of indie pop flavored by acoustic jangle and shuffling drums. “I’m Broke And So Is Everything I Own” slinks through its sing-song chorus before taking a sharp left and veering into an intense instrumental coda.
Showcasing a more mature direction for the band’s pop-inflected indie rock, The Beached Margin and Done Waiting are likely to change some opinions on I Was Totally Destroying It. Fortunately for the five-piece, the EPs should lure listeners who were turned off by the debut’s saccharine while also pleasing those who are already fans of its boundless energy and sharp hooks. And If The Beached Margin and Done Waiting are harbingers of what’s to come, I Was Totally Destroying It’s sophomore LPpresumably the best of its new materialwill be outstanding. We won’t have to wait long to find out. Horror Vacui drops in October.
I Was Totally Destroying It releases the dual EPs Friday, Aug. 7, at Pinhook. Goner and Free Electric State open at 9 p.m. Admission is $5 and limited to those 21 and over.