No Thank You’s last record All It Takes to Ruin It All was a heavy one. Lead singer and guitarist Kaytee Della Monica had just lost her father and was in the midst of processing and dealing with the immense hole that his absence left in her heart. It was a beautiful gut-punch of an album that the AV Club compared to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, which was both the darkest and most stripped back work of his career. Kaytee Della Monica, like Bruce before her, needed time to reflect on the hell life had put her through and used All It Takes to Ruin It All as a way of cataloguing those emotions. It was a powerful record that sonically embodied that tender period between grief and recovery, when you know you need to start getting better even though you couldn’t be less equipped for the journey ahead. It is a record that was as touching in its resilience as it was heartbreaking.
No Thank You’s new record, Embroidered Foliage, which dropped on Lame-O Records last Friday, is about making it through to the other side of that tunnel of grief and picking up the pieces of the person you become along the way. Della Monica told American Songwriter in a recent interview that the album is, “less about the actual grief, but more [about] my impulsive reactions to my grief,” particularly talking about how that grief manifested itself in a less than stellar relationship she found herself in. It is an album that is about the process of bottoming out, recognizing that you’ve got no farther down to go, and learning to love yourself as you make your way back up from the pit you’ve dug for yourself.
To that effect Embroidered Foliage is somewhat tidily broken up into an A side of giving in to that morose and hateful voice inside your head bringing you further down and a B side of shutting that voice up as you learn to love the person you are becoming. The album’s opener “Saturn Return” finds Kaytee arguably at the bottom of that pit, laying the groundwork to climb back up as she badgers herself on the chorus, “It’s time to stop wasting time hating yourself.” It’s a massive track that feels like it could have fit in on any late 90’s alternative radio rotation, driven by Nick Holdorf’s powerful and precise drumming and an unforgettable riff from Kaytee. It’s an invigorating song about coming to terms with the hole you’ve dug for yourself and making a plan to get up out of it. As “Saturn Retun” closes with some synth freestyling that feels fresh and retro at the same time, you’ll likely be tempted to immediately run the track back. The next several songs follow suit from “Saturn Return” with their exploration of life at the bottom. No Thank You’s general preference for keep things short and sweet lets them explore a variety of styles, picking up the pace on “Strange and Wonderful” before slowing to a crawl on the titular “Embroidered Foliage”, an emotional tour-de-force that Della Monica told Brooklyn Vegan was her favorite track on the album.
Embroidered Foliage takes a major turn at the start of Side-B with “Letter Writing Contest,” a bubbily pop song that opens with a 1980s sounding Casio drum beat. It’s a hilarious track that Della Monica told Brooklyn Vegan was, “a snarky and bratty response to a long email from my ex explaining to me why our relationship wasn’t going to work for him.” It’s safe to say that she won the letter writing contest, and in a way the song is a testament to how humor can bring us out of even our deepest pits. Once you can finally crack a laugh at how absurd things are, they become less overwhelming and more digestible. After all, making fun of people who made you feel shitty just feels good, and can often help start the process of taking away the power they have over your emotional wellbeing.
The peppier Side-B closes the record off with one of the tape’s strongest songs, “Leo Moon.” If it wasn’t already apparent Della Monica is a big believer in astrology and is a Leo moon, Cancer rising herself. Leo’s are known to be prideful and self-involved creatures where Cancers are known to be empathetic and nurturing in spite of themselves. The song is about, as she told American Songwriter, rejecting the self-effacing parts of her greater zodiac as she is, “learning to love the part that loves myself.” It’s a tender and thoughtful meditation that serves as a quasi-thesis statement for the album itself. So much of our lives is just completely out of our control, and we’re best off coming to terms with what we can control and not beating ourselves up for our imperfections. Importantly as well, it’s fine to feel like a work in progress and its more than natural to be in a constant state of attempted self-improvement. Just because we are trying to improve doesn’t mean we don’t love the person we see in the mirror, quite the opposite in fact.
Embriodered Foliage is a deeply personal album littered with inside jokes and references that only people closest to the band will ever properly appreciate, and yet its messages couldn’t be more universal. We’re all out here going through depressing shit and trying to become better people while at the same time just trying to hold on for dear life. Part of loving the person you hope to become is loving the person you are today and recognizing they are one in the same. Just let go from what is out of your control, play to your strengths, and give out as much love as you hope to receive. It can be a long climb, but with good friends at your side you’ll all find shit to laugh at along the way. In the end there is no truer freedom than letting words that used to cause pain become side splitting inside jokes.