Vinnie Caruana - Survivors Guilt (Cover Artwork)

Vinnie Caruana

Survivors Guilt (2016)

Equal Vision Records

Survivor’s Guilt is not an album for anyone who truly believes that “emo” is a dirty word. It’s for the person who likes to pretend they’ve put distance between themselves and their emo side, but still listens to a Saves the Day album from time to time and, while they don’t wear their Get Up Kids t-shirt in regular rotation anymore, they keep it in storage because they can’t bear to throw it out. (What? No, I’m not describing myself.) Because while Vinnie Caruana may have been the lead singer of the distinctly Drive-Thru Records-style emo band, The Movielife, ever since 2005 he’s been leading the more complex post-hardcore outfit, I Am the Avalanche. Caruana approaches Survivor’s Guilt fully aware that, over a decade after the third generation of emo bands surged into the mainstream, you can’t just make an emo album like it’s 2003. The genre (or a version of it, anyway) went from obscure underground music, to household name, to pejorative very quickly. Never have I seen any genre that every artist so vehemently denies being a part of and, while they’re may still be some vague semblance of an emo scene today, the term “emo” is batted around as an insult more than anything these days. That’s probably why Survivor’s Guilt is not a true emo album, but rather a slightly ironic, postmodern nod towards the emo stylings of the early 2000’s. Survivor’s Guilt oscillates wildly between sincere emotion and emo parody with a dexterity that’s only rivaled by Alkaline Trio.

Caruana’s voice comes in at the beginning of “Burn it Down” with such a snide, over-the-top sneer in his voice, that it invites you to not take what’s about to come too seriously. By far the standout track on the album is “Angel of the North” which, between its absurd lyrical content and Caruana putting on his most nasal singing voice, is a dead ringer for a They Might Be Giants love song. “Heavy Weighs the Summer” is a catchy little tune that gives us a much more cynical take on pop-punk’s idealization of summer. “Under My Side of the Bed” is a very sweet love song with the charmingly self-deprecating chorus of “You’ll have to deal with me forever.” The album’s closing track, “Your Religion is Killing Me,” pays tribute to the branch of “emo” music more closely associated with post-rock than pop-punk, as Caruana wraps things up with a nearly instrumental (the only words on the track are the title of the song) chaotic cacophony of sound and noise.

Caruana has had a decently long career in music at this point, as the lead vocalist of three different bands, and has shown a pretty good range of different styles over the years. Survivor’s Guilt shows, at the same time, both wit and heart, and is very self-aware of itself, always keeping just enough distance to keep from taking itself too seriously and collapsing in on itself with self-pity. For a first attempt at branching out into solo material, Survivor’s Guilt is a very strong debut, and a good sign that Caruana can get by perfectly well without a formal band backing him. Those who believe that anything even remotely associated with “emo” is automatically terrible should probably skip this one, but for the rest of us, Survivor’s Guilt is a really enjoyable album.