I found this little gem in summer 2009 on some random music blog. I was deep diving for some obscure emo stuff and stumbled upon this quick link for a download. I remember the description saying something like, “Emo band from Indian with a Cap’N Jazz influence”.
Inside Jokes is the sole release from Midwest Pen Pals. If the name didn’t give a hint of what they should sound like then at least being described as having a Cap’N Jazz influence hit the right check box. I could not tell anything about the band from the one pic of them I found online at the time (young kids eating at a Taco Bell and looking like stunt doubles from the movie Explorers), but I went ahead and checked them out because they barely took any space on my hard drive.
“This is reeeeaaaalllllllyyyy good…”
A few bands hit a certain spot in the nostalgia part of my brain and really caught on that summer. Some of those bands were Algernon Cadwallader, Look Mexico, Street Smart Cyclist, and Castevet. The kids in Midwest Pen Pals fit right in.
Six songs right around 16 minutes. Full of life, vigor, and sloppiness which I consider a crucial element to their sound. That element stands to me as an attitude of youthfulness and freedom in a creative way. It’s not like they had to be professional or on the level of genius, but just the fact that they were tapping into something I considered obscure was really enlightening and with the other bands I mentioned above, from around that time in Indie/Punk music, it was exciting.
The singing is off key, the guitars picked as best they can, bass seeming to be non-existent but quietly there, the drumming sounding like a kid from a junior high marching band having fun, and the gang vocals reminiscent of a Charlie Brown children’s choir.
Lyrically it’s to the point and honest. The final track “Movies like Juno” (best song here) has lyrics about divorced parents and the needed confession of why did this all happen.
“Hey dad, I've got some questions / one, where the f*** is mom? / two, is she ever coming home? / Three, why did she leave us? / I know those are all sort of the same question, but i'm feeling sorry for myself.”
Hmm… If I heard that song back in my childhood trauma of parental divorce, it would have been my anthem. Hearing it as a young adult the first time at the age 24 I gave it a respectable nod. Now at the age of 32 going on 33, it is unabashedly nostalgic.
Most of these Emo bands have broken up. None seemed to keep it together for too long and that is perfectly fine. If they stick around past two albums what else can they do? The might end up sounding like friggin’ Muse or Skrillex who knows. Anyway, this short-lived band was good for what they did and it is a fond memory I have of hearing them while driving to my local Taco Bell and getting the Cheesy Gordita Crunch with no lettuce. Cannot have the lettuce man…
(Oh, and just in case
you might want to know, this one band spawn a hydra level of Emo acts that
followed. I will not get into all that came afterwards, but now it might be
upwards of ten bands or so. Merchant Ships and William Bonney seem to be the most
popular I guess… None were as good as Midwest Pen Pals though!)