A string of Christmas lights and a bare bulb lit the basement in a soft glow. Everyone swayed together, shoulders brushing and feet occasionally tapping rhythm onto others. We were packed together so tightly that we couldn’t have disentangled ourselves if we’d wanted to. It was May, the last night of the semester, and the steady indie-rock of all-caps LADD was surging out of the basement's dusty corner. Jack Ladd ('15) leaned into the mic, his posture coiled around the intensity of his vocals. Sam Wheeler ('15) on guitar and Bennet Gelly ('15) on bass were shoulder to shoulder with Jack, playing with a motionless concentration necessitated by the press of the crowd. Sandwiched between a cement wall and the basement’s frighteningly large cast-iron boiler was Piers Gelly ('13), hammering away on drums. A week earlier, I’d expected to see all-caps LADD on a very different stage.
All-caps LADD were slotted to open Spring Fling 2014, playing before S-Type and Chance the Rapper. While most of the campus was drinking itself into a late-morning stupor, all-caps LADD were factored out of the lineup by technical difficulties and a rain delay. About a week later, as their music enveloped me in that packed basement, I imagined all-caps LADD playing on the towering, skeletal Spring Fling stage that Chance would later prance across in a cloud of MDMA. Set back 20 feet from the crowd on a 10 foot-high platform, they would’ve been on a hell of a pedestal. Their music would’ve been pumped out over campus through massive speaker stacks. They would’ve been playing in an entirely different world, and it’s a shame that they missed the chance. But as the tuners on Bennet’s Gelly’s bass hovered a few inches in front of me, sparkling with a constellation of reflected Christmas lights, I knew that the world of this tangled, stuffy basement was the right one for all-caps LADD. Mad in the Coatroom is the title of their just-released debut EP, and it crystalizes the claustrophobic, emotional world of that basement show. I was transporting back to that May night before I’d even hit play.
Mad in the Coatroom opens with “The Kids,” a track that finds all-caps LADD at their catchiest. Relentlessly upbeat drums drive away under bright guitar and bass lines that weave together with a precise attention to melody and space. All-caps LADD has a knack for the angular, steady guitar interplay that calls to mind groups like Interpol and The Strokes, and they absolutely nail it on “The Kids.” Ladd’s playful suggestion of “I’d like to take you to New York, maybe we could start a band ” is at first pleasantly fuzzed-out in its clichéd vagueness. However, when Ladd pleads, “don’t leave, don’t go, ‘cause I’ve got the best of everyone, so I’ve got the best of you too,” the “kids” and the hypothetical band in New York begin to glow with more meaning. While "The Kids" never fails to stir all-caps LADD's crowd into a jumping, head-bobbing frenzy when performed live, "don't leave, don't go..." always brings a change to the giddy air, evoking some wistful gazes in the crowd. A sense of impending change and not wanting to let go of the present sinks in—a feeling I often get when I realize how quickly time passes at Wesleyan. The post-college world looms large for all-caps LADD, a band of 3 seniors and one class of ’13 alum, and whether or not Ladd is singing to his world at Wesleyan, the question of what’s next, and perhaps the avoidance of this scary question, seems to hide in plain sight beneath “The Kids'" upbeat, twinkly guitar-rock sheen.
On the EP’s second track, “Summer Nights,” a spaced-out, reverb-drenched chord and a chilly, descending keyboard line immediately set a darker mood. Ladd’s voice has an aching, tired quality as he sings, “summer days are over, but I miss the nights when you used to fuck me sober.” The sense of loss that floated around the edges of the upbeat “The Kids” mixes with regret to come to the forefront of “Summer Nights.” It’s a beautifully wrought reflection on a past relationship that packs the emotional punch of “Dreams” and “Be Mine,” tracks from all-caps LADD’s live acoustic set at WESU. Ladd’s lyrics for all-caps LADD have seemed to always address a lover, and the tracks from the WESU session hold this lover in a hazy state of uncertainty. “Summer Nights” does the same, but with a lyrical creativity and cathartic intensity that builds it into all-caps LADD's most emotionally powerful song. In an adept stroke of songwriting, Ladd’s voice drops into an eerily harmonized repetition of “I fucked you over over over over again.” To fuck someone, to fuck someone over, to be over with someone, to be over someone; all of these possibilities arise from the phrase’s poetic ambiguity. “Summer Nights” then crescendos through the bridge section into a tortured exclamation of love lost. A brief, vivid portrait of the “long blue shirts” worn by a lover builds into a burst of distraught questions, gripping you with its explosion of intimacy into anger. The phrase "out of your hands" transforms from a nagging assurance of helplessness into an powerful cry of loss. “Summer Nights” concludes on the verse’s resigned line, “I miss the nights when you used to fuck me,” and you can understand why.
“Mad in the Coatroom” is the EP’s final track, and is more carefree and upbeat than “The Kids” or “Summer Nights.” It’s light, heady, and quite fun. Ladd’s vocal melodies are the most adventurous on the EP, with a wonderfully Paul Simon-esque jumpiness to certain phrasings. On drums and bass, the Gelly brothers skillfully work more and more energy into their parts, guiding the song through an agile build that peaks with Ladd’s incredibly catchy exclamation “she found a pack of bruised of Turkish royal Camel cigarettes in my p-p-p-pocket!” Once the song reaches this peak, it’s completely immersing. Twinkling guitar lines cascade through jumping, interlocking drums and bass as Ladd croons "I could finally get to rest my head soon." However, the instrumental passage that gets the song to this plateau feels a bit long winded, lacking the musical coherence consistent throughout the rest of the EP. Where “The Kids” and “Summer Nights” seem to pace in varying degrees of troubled introspection, “Mad in the Coatroom” diverges, galloping with a looser, jam-y quality. Playful imagery like “you mix the wine in the venom and the venom it sinks in your sweat” doesn't appear as grounded in the insecurities and romantic anxieties of the rest of the EP. At all-caps LADD's EP release show last night, a chant of "all-caps SAD! all-caps SAD!" broke out in the crowd. True, Ladd does often channel the tormented lover, and while this is always a cathartic joy to behold, it's refreshing for “Mad in the Coatroom” to move in a new direction. There's a giddiness and glee that shines throughout "Mad in the Coatroom," and this shift broadens the emotional range of the EP, concluding it strongly on a feel-good note.
Listen to all-caps LADD's Mad in the Coatroom EP below: