The old adage is still true: Don’t judge an EP by its cover. The U of C’s very own Squat the Condos recently released their debut EP We Should Be Together, topped off with some very deceptive cover art. A muscle-laden man and a positively ecstatic woman passionately embrace on some sort of romance novel cover, their clothes either very billowy or completely absent, and the bottom line is that they are 100 percent into each other. The EP however, plays less like a romance novel and more like a messy adolescent relationship, or even a romance that is hoped for but never materializes at all. I mean this in the best of ways. After all, half-baked intrigue and frustration are much more easy to relate to than Fabio.
Before diving into the drama of the EP, let’s begin by looking at the central relationship in this story. The bromance began when third-years Alan Mendelsohn (bass guitar), Coby Ashpis (vocals, guitar) and David Crespo (guitar) were all living in Rickert House in Max West during their freshman year. The three of them soon joined forces on various experimental music collaborations, but not much came of it at first. Meanwhile, Mendelsohn, Ashpis, and another friend formed a band called The Scubas, which was aptly named since all of the songs they played were about scuba diving even though none of the band members had ever been scuba diving. The trio involved themselves in numerous other projects that year, but it was not until they were sophomores that Ashpis randomly met then-freshman Etan Heller (drums) at 2 a.m. in Bartmart and Squat the Condos was born. Since then the band has performed at several venues on-campus, including the CUSA show intermission and the Off-Off Campus “pre-glow.” They’ve also performed at venues around Chicago such as Cal’s Bar, The Double Door, and Poncho’s. Finally, in early 2011, the band recorded We Should Be Together with University of Chicago alum Eric Mayer at his basement studio in Pilsen.
The EP begins with “Missing You,” which is mainly about a guy who has difficulty expressing his feelings to a girl he loves but seems not to like all that much. The next track, “When You Left Me,” really puts the guitars to good use, creating an extremely catchy, beachy riff with excellent twang to boot. With its incredibly effortless–if not slightly lackadaisical–sound, and sincere lyrics (“When you left me, I did some drugs, trying to kiss you during our hugs”) this is easily the most likeable song on the album. Stylistically, “When You Left Me” and most of the other tracks on the EP are most reminiscent of early Weezer (a noted inspiration of the band along with The Pixies, The Clash, and Roy Orbison, among others). This influence is most easily seen in the lyrics which, however shy and nerdy they may be, also manage to be properly blunt. Ashpis’ sharp diction and generally crisp voice with just a hint of complaint fits the band’s indie vibe like a brand-new NPR T-shirt.
“Pretending,” the album’s fifth track, is genuinely hysterical and my personal favorite. The music follows in the same easy-going, light and breezy vein that you have come to expect by this point in the EP, but the lyrics are candid, straightforward, and just plain funny. In essence, this is another song about the dark, painful side of love, only it doesn’t take itself too seriously (so you can play it at your next ironically beach-themed party). “You would be so lucky to have me,” Ashpis sings. “I like you because you are so trashy. It’s not like I want to get you pregnant,”–this is just one of many lines in the song which is so offbeat and droll that it’s actually entertaining, even relatable. Our hearts say “no,” but our memories say “yes.” The thing about this track, along with several others on the EP, is that it showcases a special sort of love-hate-apathy relationship that somehow seems uniquely collegiate, or at least belongs to the realm of the young adult—a sort of longing that is sometimes incredibly meaningful, often passionate, but still shallow.
However, this album is more than its dry, angsty exterior. Tracks like “Darlene” are almost enough to make you believe in love again—maybe even the kind you see on the covers of romance novels but with less muscle mass. Furthermore, “Benadryl,” the lovesick tale of a man and his pretty pink pills, makes one believe, at the very least, in the power of over-the-counter medication.
Squat the Condos is a fun, deceptively mellow band, with sarcastic and punchy lyrics. Overall I suppose my relationship with the EP was very similar to the relationships presented in most of the songs. Sometimes I loved it, sometimes I hated it, but I could never get over it.