ELLEN MAY – Dying To Live EP

The members of Ellen May met via social media in 2022, and quickly realising their shared musical interests, Matt Matusik and Matt Branton began sharing demo ideas. Seemingly just as quickly, they began working on demos with a plan for a full length release. Despite an album’s worth of tracks being completed, the Ellen May debut features just two numbers, but ‘Dying To Live’s digital single format is actually a perfect way to introduce their emo/melodic punk sound to the masses.

Mixed by John Naclerio – known for his studio work with The Ataris and My Chemical Romance – the tracks sound great, but there’s more here than just a technical sheen. The duo’s approach to melodies are broadly appealing from an emo perspective, and despite featuring an unexpectedly deep vocal in a couple of places, both tracks are home to some great harmonies, often filling out some great chorus arrangements.

‘Home,’ – always presented with that mysterious comma – kicks off with a brief rumble of drums before crashing headlong into a massive slab of pop punk where speed driven riffs dominate. Within seconds, Ellen May pull the listener back to the angst ridden early noughts with great effect. With their blend of melodic punk and emo, it takes seconds before the track makes an impression, especially with a very tuneful vocal taking the reins at the outset. However, its when the punkier riffs make way for a chunkier emo riff that shares something that sounds like a hardcore breakdown played by on-form pop punkers that the track really takes off. Here, the crunchy guitar sound not only revisits a classic style but shares a perfect tone, whilst a slightly gruff secondary vocal adds a lyrical theme of regret. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there”, cries the unseen narrator, before promising they’ll “be home soon”, delivering a universal message of how it’s important to prioritise important things before it’s too late. Everything about this track will seem very familiar to any melodic punk fans who were deep into the scene during the late nineties and early noughts, sharing the work of a still new band who actually sound like they’ve been part of the musical fabric for decades.

That’s great, but ‘Where The Heart Lies’ – the stronger offering from this digital duo – places the focus more squarely on a higher and lighter vocal, and in doing so, shares something that feels a lot more traditional, genre wise. With almost immediate effect, the song feels like a brilliant throwback to ‘So Long, Astoria’ era Ataris with its combo of huge pop punk vocal and emo-ish ringing guitar, and the way the track slides effortlessly from its grand verses into a punkier chorus shows some tight arrangement skills. Adding an extra musical slant – though, again, very much indebted to an emo past – you’ll also find a brief interlude featuring militaristic drumming, and a second musical twist where choppier guitar lines beef up the emo quotient, but both of these detours embellish a great track rather than just add extra flair for the sake of it. A couple of listens in, and this actually starts to sound like a genre classic – very much the kind of tune that sets the band up with a very strong musical foothold within a scene where they face a lot of competition.

Naturally, these Aussie lads aren’t aiming to bring a massively new slant to melodic punk, but it’s more than obvious that what they do, they do absolutely brilliantly. With some great riffs and even greater chorus hooks, this is a fine mini jolt of DIY emo. Short as the release may be, for fans of later period Ataris and Recess, ‘Dying To Live’ should more than entertain.

November 2023