Review: Koyo’s “Drives Out East” is the Perfect Soundtrack to Your East Coast Summer Adventures
There’s something really special about finding a band or artist from your hometown or even your home state that you connect with, particularly in the alternative genre. Chicago has Knuckle Puck, Boston has Have Heart, Philadelphia has The Wonder Years...the list goes on.
Being from Long Island, New York, is an experience in and of itself. For a place that most of its natives tend to complain about, it’s home to some of the alternative genre’s biggest bands, ranging from Brand New to Taking Back Sunday to Incendiary.
As I started to become more of a regular concert-goer in the past few years, my angsty teenage heart and mind absolutely began to absolutely live for bands from Long Island, even more so than bands from anywhere else. For a girl who claimed she hated her hometown just like every other pop-punk kid, my love for the bands I was discovering at these shows outweighed all the times I had felt trapped in the northeast.
When discussing the best current Long Island hardcore bands, or even just the best current Long Island bands in general, names like Sanction, Innerlove., Pain Of Truth, Victory Garden, Rain Of Salvation, and Family Dinner might come to mind. While I’m a huge fan of each and every one of those bands, the one that I connected with the most was Koyo, hailing from Stony Brook, New York.
Made up of members from other prominent alternative/hardcore bands like Hangman, Rain Of Salvation, Soul Provider, Typecaste, and SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Koyo was formed over the summer of 2019 when a group of friends decided that they wanted to make music without any limits or boundaries enforced by genre or other projects. The band’s first EP, “Painting Words Into Lines”, was recorded in late 2019 and released in March 2020, just before the entertainment industry and the world at large shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Releasing music at the start of a global pandemic with no hope of live shows or events in the foreseeable future is daunting on its own, but putting out your first release as a band the week before essentially the entire world closed? It’s safe to say Koyo had their work cut out for them.
However, they didn’t crack under the stress; in fact, in this case, the pressure formed a diamond, and “Painting Words Into Lines” became a hit on Long Island and beyond, seeing multiple vinyl runs, amassing over 50,000 streams on Spotify, and being included in my very own highly-touted favorite hardcore releases of 2020 listicle. By the time Koyo was able to have their first live event, a socially-distanced acoustic set in November 2020, they already had a dedicated fanbase who fell in love with their emotionally-charged classic emo-influenced sound.
Of course, the joy and sometimes relief of a well-received debut is always coupled with the dreaded fear of the sophomore slump, a second release that just doesn’t quite measure up to the magic of what came before it. I’m thrilled to say that, in my opinion, Koyo’s second EP “Drives Out East” was absolutely worth the wait and smashed every possible expectation that I had for it.
The EP’s first track, “Moriches”, was played for the first time at that acoustic set back in November, and was included as an exclusive track on the band’s “Short Beach Sessions” cassette tape via Daze. This is a fast-paced, high-energy song that grabs ahold of you and won’t let you go until it’s finished with you.
Lyrics like “I’ll use these nights to pass the time / My heart’s been craving / Disruptive changes / I used to find in an Oklahoma sky” and “Harbors that gleam / Highways of sleet / Distracting me from a crumbling routine / Fear on my breath / Heart beating out my chest / I'd only find in Wyoming over nights / But it’s December and I can’t find my peace / Short lived reunions are relief that I seek / Our words connect with perfect diction of times we miss and always seem to need” seem to make reference to how life without touring and travel felt for a group of people so used to being constantly on the road. Lines towards the end like “Or maybe that’s just me / So put the car in drive or else I’ll never leave / Surely it’s not just me / Surely it’s all much harder than it seems / I could pivot off and plant my feet, no” refer to the stockholm syndrome that comes with living in a place like LI, dreaming of leaving one day and making a life somewhere else.
Up next is “Since You Asked”, which definitely draws upon the band’s early 2000s emo influences much like their first EP, particularly “Heaven So Heavy” off of “Painting Words Into Lines.” There’s more emotive lyricism here as well, found in lines like “You watch the seconds fornicate, ripping into moments we’d do anything to hold / Now watch them disappear in a blink” and “You can find me by the water or in places that you rest your head / Waiting room waiting to play god / One great step in a world that only wants to watch you fall apart.”
Track three, “Diamond One”, was the first single released from this EP and therefore the first taste fans got of the band’s new era - I included it on my monthly jams playlist for June as well. This is an upbeat anthem of sorts, with lyrics that are almost motivational, pushing you to live your life to the fullest despite the negative and often mundane nature of the world around you.
Abby Rhine of Life’s Question is featured on this track as well, and her vocals add a ton to the song as a whole. Something about singing “I'd rather die than leave a single corner of this unseen, unturned, unheard” while driving down the Northern State Parkway (Long Islanders, if you know you know) is just straight-up cathartic, and I can only imagine how much fun hearing this live will be.
Speaking of live shows, now seems like a good time to take a quick intermission to promote Koyo’s release weekend! The band will be playing two shows at the end of August to celebrate dropping “Drives Out East”, both taking place on Long Island.
They’ll take the stage at Amityville Music Hall in Amityville, New York (my personal favorite venue ever) with Rule Them All, Shackled, Stand Still (this will also serve as the release show for their new EP “A Practice in Patience”), and Yesduke on August 20th (tickets available here) and Shaker's Pub in Oakdale, NY with Regulate, Life's Question, Soul Blind, Victory Garden, and Living Weapon on August 22nd (tickets available here). These are both killer lineups, both of which I will be in attendance for (surprise! not really) and you definitely don’t want to miss hearing these songs live for the first time (weekend passes available here).
Okay, break time over, time to talk about the best song on this EP; “The World We Claim.” Earlier this year, I did an interview with Joey Chiaramonte and Harold Griffin for Legends of Tomorrow Magazine’s second print issue where they told me that not only did this EP exist (big news to Jen from February) but in some ways, it was completely different from their previous work.
Griffin had told me, “I think the record is fucking dope, I think it touches on things that people really liked about the first EP, and that we like about our band and its identity. We messed around a little more because it was more of a collaborative experience in terms of writing. There’s four songs where two are properly Koyo, and two more are more of us trying new things, so we’ll see how it goes...we think it’s fucking sick. We even had a string section for the first time on a song, which definitely strays away from hardcore but still touches on hardcore in a way. This EP is going to have a well-rounded approach. “
While all of that was a lot to process and to get excited about at the time, and while reading that again after hearing the EP makes so much more sense now, the last part is what initially caught my attention - a string section? Like, orchestra strings? On a hardcore-adjacent song? I’m sure in the moment I kind of just said “cool” and moved on, but, internally, my mind was reeling at the thought of The Koyo Orchestra becoming a reality.
Jokes aside, “The World We Claim” is that song with the band’s first string section, an arrangement composed by Jonathan Davies and performed by Davies on cello and Natalie Kress on violin. Griffin was right, this is certainly new territory for the band and for their genre as a whole, but it works so, so perfectly.
Lyrically, this song explores themes of individuality and conformity, controversial opinions and seeking attention, talking just to talk and hearing people but not actually listening. This is a full-on ballad, a takedown of life as we know it in 2021, and, in a word, it’s epic. This track’s lyrical depth and sonic uniqueness make it potentially the EP’s most replayable song, if not the band’s most replayable song.
Whether I’m listening to it for the strings, or Chiaramonte’s passionate vocals, or to think the lyrics over one more time, I could leave this song on for the rest of my life and probably wouldn’t complain about it. Its title is extremely fitting, too; the lyrics discuss “The World We Claim”, what we have shaped the world to become as older generations have grown up and we have begun to take the reins.
What have we done to the world that we claim? Have we changed it? Is it better because of us? Or is it worse? What will we do to it in the future? If it starts to fail, will we be able to save it?
In a way, the concept of “the world that we claim” reminds me a lot of Long Island, the hometown I mentioned earlier that everyone loves to hate and hates to love. Despite how many times people from here say they can’t wait to run away the minute they can, we all have a soft spot for it - LI is our own little world that we claim, for better or for worse, and it is what it is because of us and the people who came before us.
While, technically, I could have been born anywhere, Koyo is one of those bands that makes me feel proud to be from Long Island, for countless reasons. If you’re looking for an EP that’ll make you think, make you cry, make you dance, make you sing behind the wheel on your way to the beach, or make you miss bands like The Movielife and Crime in Stereo, “Drives Out East” is for you.
Koyo’s second EP, “Drives Out East”, along with the rest of their discography thus far, is available to stream wherever you listen to music; you can also pick up a copy of it on vinyl through Triple B Records. You can support the band by picking up some merch via Brass City Merch, All In Merch, or the band’s official website.
If you’re itching to see this band live, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to before 2021 is over. Links for tickets to their aforementioned record release weekend can be found earlier in this review, and tickets to their east coast run supporting No Pressure can be found here (see you at the Brooklyn date!).
You can find this blog on Twitter @StrawbSkiesBlog, on Instagram @StrawberrySkiesBlog, and on Facebook @StrawberrySkiesBlog, our latest monthly playlist for June can be listened to via Spotify, and stickers of the blog's title and logo are available through our graphic designer Erika Nissen's RedBubble store. Long Island Hardcore Forever.