To describe Sioux Falls’ double-album debut is to describe every offshoot of rock music since 1990. There’s the pounding rhythmic cohesion between the fuzzy-yet-clean instruments, the jam sessions that play out and overtake the last three minutes of songs that could have very reasonably ended long ago, the softly coy delivery of lines that gleam an aura of slight embarrassment, the harsh vocalizations and noisiness of all things post-hardcore, the always-referential and meta approach to lyrics, and the desire to thrive in a genre by encapsulating all it’s ever brought while still offering something new. It can be a difficult task to retain a sense of familiarity while still finding new ground and maintaining a contemporary status. And really, Sioux Falls could very easily have shot themselves in the foot by saturating themselves so deeply in alt-rock aesthetics. But it’s this completely unadulterated approach that makes Rot Forever feel so exceptionally unique.
There’s a semi-dichotomy at play with Sioux Falls and their opposing approaches to instrumentation and lyricism. Instrumentally, the band could be accidentally mistaken for any number of independent rock groups from twenty years ago. But singer Isaac Eiger is much less skilled at mimicking those bands’ songwriting styles. Instead, he hones in on components that feel lifted from emo, post-hardcore, and pop punk acts, which, when paired with the indie rock foundation, makes for a surprisingly individualized take on the genre.
Intentional or not, Rot Forever seems like an unwavering piecemeal playlist of everything Eiger grew up on, from musical influences to family history to TV show preferences. It’s a lot to digest. But buried within the relentless references are nuggets of emotional intensity that Sioux Falls calls upon. And despite being deeply personal for him, these disjointed moments that are stacked and scattered throughout hold the power of nostalgia for everyone, a relentless force that creeps and lingers, leading to nights of held-back tears at the thought of those oft-forgotten moments whose significance can’t be recaptured or recreated. You don’t really notice how important Nick at Nite binges are until you realize it’s been ten years since you had enough free time to watch it.
“I never watched Nick at Nite. That holds literally no emotional bearing for me.” Fear not, reader-doubting-the-power-of-nostalgia. Isaac Eiger has an apparently endless supply of products and minute activities to list off, at least one of which you probably remember fondly. With such a wide scope of remembrance, it’s pretty hard to avoid getting struck by the shots of unmitigated memories Sioux Falls constantly outpours. Remember when you could eat junk food without feeling guilty? Remember when you lost hours of your day to video games, completely disregarding responsibilities in the process? Or how about those long mornings and afternoons spent watching your favorite cartoon? Surely you had a friend group that slowly drifted apart after graduation? Maybe you’ve buried the emotional burden that came when someone you loved died. Or maybe you’re just now realizing how long it’s been since you truly felt anything.
All of these feelings are helmed by copious questions that get posed, most of which pop up and never return, like a scattered train of thought that hurriedly races through the snapshots of youth. “Dom”, adulthood’s answer to “Adam’s Song”, utilizes the haze of vague questions for momentum. “Your Name’s Not Ned” asks someone why the left so soon, leaving it up to the listener to determine whether that’s a question posed to a long-lost love or someone who’s passed away. Eiger desperately asks, “Won’t someone take me away?” on “3fast”, a retrospectively pointless attempt to prevent social anxiety and teenage awkwardness.
Truthfully, Rot Forever could be renamed Teenaged Forever and not lose an ounce of its sometimes snarky, sometimes all-too-real sentiments. These are the words of an adult who’s recently lost his youthfulness, clinging to the memories of what won’t return, regardless of the shame or pride associated with. Given the direction of most tracks, Sioux Falls seems to be creating music for those who’ve lost their footing in life, struck down by an absence of direction and an overwhelming need to find it. The Portland, Oregon outfit has already mastered their intentions in no time at all, in spite of a vocalization that comes across half-slurred and half-mumbled. Even with the vocal incoherencies, the delivery is drenched in emotional substance to the point of it not mattering. The anthemic conclusion to “San Francisco Earthquake” could be lyric-less, containing nothing but screams and chants. And if it did, it’d still be a force majeure of barrier breakdowns.
These breakdowns are the product of change. Everything leading up to adulthood is marked by exploration and excitement. It’s about discovering which music scenes fit you by trying out different local shows. It’s about the nervousness that comes with starting a relationship, or maybe just the hopes of securing one. It’s about coming to terms with death and unending introspective thoughts that forever cloud your mind. Rot Forever is the tangible realization that the exploration chapter of your life is over, and that the future is marked by nothing but uncertainty. Sioux Falls serves to reassure you that it’s okay to not feel okay, if not only by letting you know that you aren’t alone. It’s a resoundingly human understanding for a band just getting started, using what the past left behind to propel themselves forward.
– Zach W.