If you know me well then you know that I am a merch man to my very bones. I have a laundry list of regrets, but at the very top is that I didn’t buy the legendary DBZ Joyce Manor shirt when I saw them tour with Modern Baseball back a few hundred years ago. I’ll go to the grave wishing I had that shirt, and if I had that shirt I’d go to the grave wearing it. Therefore, I make sure to open my wallet and support whenever I see a band who went the extra mile to put together some merch worth wearing. I knew I stumbled into something special immediately when I saw Delaware emo band Khaki Cuff’s Garfield shirt in a twitter thread Conor from the Summit Shack did promoting band merch last week. You simply could not ask for anything more from a band shirt. The old old school Garfield smokin a pipe. The band name organically and prominently worked into the comic. The five lines of scripture printed underneath. The fact that in a hundred years none of my friends would be able to make heads or tails of it without a lengthy explanation. It was like stumbling onto a Picasso at a yard sale. But I as a rule don’t wear shirts from things I don’t actually fuck with, especially with the high probablility that people would have questions about this shirt, so I had to check the band out to see if their music lived up to the high standards that their merch set. Luckily Khaki Cuffs had just put out a self-titled album a fortnight earlier that was sitting there on Spotify ready for me to sink my teeth into.
Out the gate was a screamo song and that is just not my bag so I was worried. Was I really about to miss out on this shirt because of some screaming? I started justifying the purchase to myself. Think about all the NBA players in Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead shirts after all. Plus how am I gonna say I don’t like a song with a title as incredible as I Used to Steal From Grocery Stores a Lot as A Kid? I then found out the lead singer’s name was Brody Hamilton, which helped distract me from the scramz just off of how cool a name that is. I mean that might be the chillest name ever, how was there not a character on The OC named Brody Hamilton?? I spent the rest of the first track wondering how Brody didn’t end up becoming a professional surfer before the second track, Cool Cat Saves the Kid, moved on from the scramz and I took a deep sigh of relief. Cool Cat is fast and fun and sung at a reasonable tenor so I was all the way in. By the time the song was rounding out I had the shirt in my cart and was looking at shipping options. You could say that Cool Cat Saves the Kid saved this kid who could now have a cool cat on his shirt. [Still not too late to edit this one out Brendan].
After some less superficial listening I came to appreciate just how well written this album is. Brody is able to articulate complex and extremely specific emotions without being too wordy and while still being quite relatable. Brody is clearly very cynical about their own nostalgia and how the rosy colored glasses we put on can negatively affect our outlook on the rest of our lives, as they sing to close out Cool Cat, “I feel nostalgic for high school I don’t know why, cause I hated it when I was still a kid but times were simpler then and I can’t help but think my life is over.” The tracks where there was screaming also made a lot more sense once I started to listen to what Brody was saying, as songs that are screamed are generally about topics that justify the wailing. Album closer, I Am Fairly Certain That Frankie from No Option Hates Me, opens with an extremely sobering speech from a trucker who stared death in the face when he got a stroke driving at night, where he found himself completely unbothered by the light he saw at the end of the tunnel. Surviving gave him the urgency to push forward and live a better life. The man warns however that if you are similarly waiting for life to wake you up to take heed, because that message might just kill you when it comes. Brody then jumpstarts the track wailing, “I’ll let you down like I always do,” before going on about how the best days of both their ex’s life and their own were now behind them, and how they wasted those years letting one another down. It is a gut wrenching track that makes for a perfect finale to this album, and another fantastic example of how Khaki Cuffs can communicate so much with so little. The track that impressed me most however had to be Caffeine Cops. Again Brody finds himself trying to break down something incredibly specific, how it can feel absolutely revelatory as a young adult to realize that you have a long life ahead of you and that you are the only one who is gonna make sure it all works out. Brody talks about how they need to pay attention and make sure to keep their life on the good track it is currently on, before pouring into all the people who make their life worth living and the activities that bring them together with those people. Here you can feel Brody heeding the trucker’s advice in real time. The beauty of life is in those tiny moments shared with others where we know we’re not alone in this world, and if we’re waiting for life to hit us like a ton of bricks to justify our existence then we are really just waiting to die.
While I was initially put off by the screamo tracks I really grew to appreciate how varied this album is. There are songs where Brody sings calmly all the way to songs with Brody screaming their head off and tracks where they are everywhere in between. No two songs end up sounding alike and there isn’t a point that feels remotely unnatural or out of place. It is versatile without sounding chaotic, with each change in vocal range being purposeful. Khaki Cuff’s self titled album is a impressive release from a promising young emo band and I couldn’t be happier that I stumbled onto their music. More than anything it is an LP that makes me desperate to hear the band live. I long to hear how Khaki Cuffs will handle the highs and the lows of their set and to count how many waters or Tecates Brody will have to put down to make it through. We’ll have to wait quite a while for that next show unfortunately, though I have ample time to plan the outfit. You won’t find me in the Garfield shirt that brought me to the band though, I cannot properly explain how lame it is to wear a band’s own t-shirt at their concert. Always reminds me of the time my buddy Kevin’s dad took us to see Miracle a couple weeks after it came out and there was a row of people in facepaint with USA jerseys on. But you might find me in my Jeff Rosenstock Garfield shirt, or my Sailor Moon Joyce Manor shirt I bought a size too small because it was the last one in stock. Though hopefully I’ll be wearing a shirt of a band who reads this article and goes “You think that Garfield shirt is nice buddy well check our shit out.”