Perceived by purists as poster children for everything wrong with punk rock today, the members of the Promise Ring have been blamed for conceiving the sassy, teenybopper pillow fight that emo has devolved into.
"Playing music doesn't have to have these huge social repercussions," says Promise Ring guitarist Jason Gnewikow. "We're just doing this thing that we really like doing." For now, that means largely abandoning the sound that once made the Promise Ring one of the brightest hopes of the post-punk underground. The band's 1996 debut, 30 Degrees Everywhere, was a blueprint for the mid-'90s emo scene, mixing the sugar-spun melodic sound of bands like Hüsker Dü and the Pixies with the glacial tension of Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu into a fresh concoction of hardcore angst and indie rock pep.
But while the band's latest, the lush, pastoral Wood/Water, maintains much of the upbeat yet pensive timbre of prior releases, the disc stretches its sound with restless arrangements, stratified production, and -- dare it be said -- an almost grown-up air. Hints of Wilco, Built to Spill, and the Flaming Lips have worked their way into these new songs. Even singer Davey VonBohlen's voice has been sanded down from its trademark rustic crackle: Now it purrs with a weary, heart-wrenched eloquence.
"We just figured we'd stick our necks out and try something new," Gnewikow says. "And if it sucks, it sucks. But at least it's different."