While Settlefish's sketchily drawn line roughly follows the slashes made by emo's black permanent marker, Dance a While, Upset -- its debut for Deep Elm -- is closer a cousin to indie rock than the post-hardcore urgency mined by many of its lovelorn labelmates. Led by the obtuse lyrics and earnest vocals of Jonathan Clancy, the band shows an affinity for the minor keys and mashed-up influences of indie, often (like in the six-plus minute "On Symmetry Pebbles") letting songs play out in an angular yet unhurried sort of way that suggests the math rock of mid-'90s types like Chavez. Likewise, Clancy's pseudo-poetic, nearly impenetrable lyrics repeatedly bust up the boy-loses-girl, boo-hoo emo template. (Sample lyric, from "Pilot": "Another ladybug has come percussion needs another victim rhubarb rhythm rhyme ridiculous"). All of this being said, Settlefish isn't afraid of the rock. "Camouflage Iris" ends in the midst of wailing, grinding guitars, while "Artificial Synapse" plays Clancy's voice off a processed version of itself over pinging electric guitar notes and weirdly shifting time signatures. "Pilot" itself channels the late, lamented At the Drive-In with propulsive drumming, Clancy's raw throat screaming oddly alluring gibberish, and treble-kicking guitars that drive the song to its disjointed, super-satisfying minor-key finale. Settlefish might be relegated to an emo holding tank by its label association and the occasional, yearning foray into youthful overstatement. But even if it doesn't always succeed, the band uses up every inch of Dance a While, Upset with opaque sketches and outside-the-lines ambition.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus