As an adult, thinking back on going to church as a kid seems weird to me. My parents took my brother and me to a Catholic church. It’s a strangely uptight religion that encourages one to be fruitful and multiply, but a pox on your house should you mention anything regarding the process out loud or enjoy it in any way. I can’t say that I recommend that approach if for no other reason than I would have rather dealt with that shit growing up than in my 30s. If there’s one positive take away from the experience it’s an appreciation for people who make music about growing up with similar bullshit. My church periodically put those garbage white crosses out by the road and I’m a huge fan of Against Me!’s take on that subject.
I bring this up because if I had to guess based on This Will Haunt Me, I’d say the folks in Dollar Signs can relate. Last year’s stellar EP, Life is Ruff, introduced me to a band that was both willing to be open about their struggles with anxiety and also really, really good at writing pop-punk songs around them. Since then, I’ve taken in their entire catalog and loved every second of it. It’s obvious right away that the band’s second official full-length and A-F Records debut is another heaping helping of everything you could want from a band who titles songs with puns like “Cry Hard” or “Sadderday.” It’s refreshing to hear a band take such a transparent approach to their songwriting and set the stage for an alternative to the toxic masculinity that plagues the genre.
On top of the viscerally honest approach to their lyrics, the members of Dollar Signs are masters of incorporating more than the typical guitar/drum/bass instruments in their music. The band pulls of the inclusion of trumpet, xylophone, and various jazzy keyboard riffs without coming off as gimmicky or ska, which is such a rare feat. It’s impossible to not want to dance like a drunken idiot at a wedding to the brass and jingle breakdown of “Til’ Death” or picture rollicking circle pits to the keys in “I Used to Bury My Feelings Deep Down Inside of Me.” The recurring themes of death, growth, and the emotions that come from dealing with either are woven in a way that showcase a band that takes their craft very seriously and have a shit ton of fun doing it. Life is hard and shitty sometimes, but Dollar Signs is all about celebrating the joys of getting together with good people and letting a little catharsis take over.
One of the best examples of this and easily my favorite song on the record is “Shallow Pop Songs.” I took a trip home recently to see my family and singing along to this in the rental car was easily one of the best parts of the trip. Including a bridge about how stupid James Cameron’s Avatar is was a golden touch. Then again, I can’t stand that movie and think it’s nice now to have such a catchy way of expressing it. The only downside is that the band rhymes “hard” with “hard” in the song which puts them in the company of bands like Mest. I was recently calling Mest out for their fondness for rhyming the same word multiple times in row and being the worst in general. Thankfully, being raised a good Catholic boy, I think I remember forgiveness being important. So Dollar Signs, I forgive you. Mest, you’re still the worst.
This Will Haunt Me is a record full of contradictions that are wrestled with throughout the album. From the way that it is both bleak about the present while remaining hopeful about the future, to the struggle to grow with an ever changing world while consistently demonstrating a clear advancement in talent by the band as a whole. It is an album that is both clever and self-aware which avoids being pretentious by speaking from direct experience. Life is riddled with complicated questions that have often lead to people making up some crazy, unverifiable explanations to answer them. Having spent a good amount of my youth being subjected to the Catholic version, I am naturally drawn to an artist willing to highlight some of the church’s own contradictions. The way Dollar Signs turns the devil, the worst demon of all time, into a writer of successful pop songs who is also shitty with lyrics tickles me in all the right places. I can’t believe that it’s only been one month that I’ve had this record on repeat. This Will Haunt Me has a timeless quality that makes it feel like an old, familiar friend yet still fresh every time you hear it. I’m just glad it is finally out because it has been haunting me not to be able to talk about how good this album is.