July 23, 2021 The Maine – XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time (Album Review)
Tempe, Arizona natives The Maine have grown into their own as titans of the Emo scene thanks to stints on festivals such as Warped Tour and the Bamboozle. So it’s no surprise that they dredge up some serious feels while offering slices of summer-baked nostalgia on their latest, XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time, which arrived on Friday, July 9, 2021 via their own label, 8123 Records, in collaboration with Photo Finish Records.
Initially joining forces in 2007 as a Pop Punk band, the quintet—John O’Callaghan (vocals, piano, guitar), Jared Monaco (lead guitar), Garrett Nickelsen (bass), Kennedy Brock (rhythm guitar), and Pat Kirsch (drums)—gained fast notoriety with their debut EP, The Way We Talk, released after their signing to Fearless Records. (As an aside, and an Easter egg for long-time fans, it is a record that they are no longer fans of playing but one that they pay homage to on XOXO.)
After starting a tour circuit and gaining mass attention, they released their first full album, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, a literal mantra of their work ethic and desire to connect with all fans everywhere. Next up, … And a Happy New Year EP was a composition of Christmas covers showing more of a well-rounded repertoire, which continued into their second full-length, Black and White. This was followed by a collab EP with Emo favorites Never Shout Never, called Split- EP.
Taking a mature turn they delivered their 2011 smash Pioneer followed by Forever Halloween and Imaginary Numbers in 2013, further developing their musical niche. American Candy (2015) and Lovely Little Lonely (2017) harkened back to memories of their early days with fun energy and nostalgia, while You Are Ok (2019) looked to their future sound.
Their fans call themselves members of 8123 and this fan base grows day by day just as their musical style continues to evolve. So it’s no shock that The Maine’s newest endeavor, their newest, XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time, is absolutely no exception to the band’s lengthy history of cool. To prove this, they kick off the record with first single, “Sticky,” a summer soundtrack car anthem with an upbeat pep and good vibes to boot. One might say it truly “sticks” out as a great single!
Following this is the single “Lips,” appropriately released after “Sticky.” Allowing the hammering guitars their time to shine, the track has more of an Americana-type groove and refers to their first ever, cringe-evoking (at least for the band) The Way We Talk. “Love in Real Time” takes more of a misty turn, with an air of the ‘80s coming through the cracks. Simple yet to the point, the song delivers echoes of love coming to the present while bass takes the forefront in driving the beat.
“High Forever ” is more groovy and uses vocal warping to add a twisted effect; never coming down from the high of the song and that’s their intention. Single “April 7th” adds more of a Pop element with subtle deep guitars, giving O’Callaghan a chance to shine; an easy head bopper that speaks of new love and the magic it entails. Meanwhile, “If Your Lights Go Out” is a truly uplifting look at making it through the toughest times; particularly relevant to recent years. Hopeful for a better future, visions of lighters and lit-up phones swinging left to right are what the band hopes for; and that they can come together with the fans soon.
Coming in swinging, “Pretender” follows suit with a positive message of remaining true to oneself with tinning guitar pedal effects that sound straight out of a ‘90s Dance jam. Appealing to all those who feel like underdogs, The Maine wants everyone to feel like they belong—but, it’s true, “Misunderstood can feel so good.” Following this, high tempo comes to play with “Dirty, Pretty Beautiful,” pairing The 1975 style backing vocals with a Hip Hop influenced breakdown and clappable beat.
This provides a smooth transition into “Anxiety in Real Time,” whose instrumentals play to the lyrical theme of anxiety; recognizing the feeling of being in one’s head and the sinking feeling it brings to light. Echoing instrumentals create the vastness of the mind riddled in thought as a brighter tune, “Face Towards The Sun,” takes shape. Looking to a better and brighter tomorrow, as the present world comes out of a dark place, this track is a perfect ending to this album; bringing in the intensity and positive outlook to this hand clapper. “Everything is exactly as it should be’‘ is repeated as soaring harmonies rebound the happy spirit this band always loves to give off to its fans. This smooth ending after all the gleeful harmonies is a sweet and hopeful sigh towards the future and a breath of relief.
The Maine has truly remained devoted to their fans throughout one of the toughest times many of us have experienced in our lifetime; no shows, no touring, and no live music. Finding a comfortable niche between their ever hopeful attitudes and the despair that is especially relevant in these times, XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time plays beautifully to each of these contrasting emotions. It is an album about remaining true to oneself, and creating memories with love and a bright outlook in mind.
A climber on the Alternative charts already, The Maine’s new yellow-tinted record embraces musical influences past and present from Smashing Pumpkins to The 1975, and the fans are ready and eager to devour every note. Similarly, the album shows that the band, too, are just as excited to be back on the road with the fans they adore. For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Maine’s XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time 4 out of 5 stars.