Let’s rewind to 1999. Fresh off the success of Four Minute Mile, The Get Up Kids released the Red Letter Day EP and emo would never be the same again. The entire release was to satisfy their expiring contract with label Doghouse, but also serving as an introduction to their next album; the all time classic Something To Write Home About. I know we’re talking about a 21 year old piece of music, but it has held up well over the years. It’s time to revisit Red Letter Day in all of its glory.
The EP opens with “One Year Later”, an often forgotten track with the crunchiest bass line the genre has ever seen. It feels like reminiscing with the band in a parking lot watching cars pass in the night. The general angst, while universal, is markedly midwestern. The strained vocals of Matt Pryor carry us through all the lyrical moments culminating in the punchy “This is not a swan song…but it goes”, followed by the final chorus. If this song had been released in 2020, it would tear the scene up. One can only imagine it did the same in 1999. Personally “One Year Later”, might be one of my favorite songs of all time, I like to think I create a new Get Up Kids fan every time I play this song.
A less polished version of “Red Letter Day” fills the second slot. This version of the track really feels laid bare compared to the album version. The emotional delivery of the lyrically simple song is a master class in vocal delivery. The line “… and if it’s a lie, I don’t want to be the one who signed, not the one who falls down”, feels like it’s being screamed through the speakers. A crowd chanting every word along with Pryor isn’t hard to imagine, it’s actually impossible not to. I prefer this version of the song due to the emotional vulnerability. Sometimes songs get over-produced and unfortunately that’s the case here. The album version feels too contained for my personal taste, the unhinged feeling in the EP version fits more with my tastes.
Next up is “Forgive and Forget”, a decent song acting as the bridge to the last two tracks. It feels out of place on this release. “Forget what we fought for, hard as I might”, makes for an easy to sing along line. As a matter of fact, the entire song is easy to sing along to, but mostly forgettable otherwise. Not to call it a throwaway by any stretch, it just feels like the weakest of the 5 songs. Every once in a while this song will pop up on a playlist and it’s a coin toss to decide on skipping or not. There is another version of this song released on the album Eudora. If listening on the vinyl reissue, which is absolutely worth purchasing, this concludes the A-side of the record. As a collective whole, I prefer the A-side. The band slides from song to song with complete ease. While they were still young at this point, the maturing process can be felt through the pure cohesive compilation of tracks.
Starting off the B-Side the fifth track “Anne Harbour”. The first real track showing off the newly added keyboard work of James Dewees. “Anne Harbour” feels like a track from a completely different band. If it weren’t for Pryors vocals, it could have been a completely different group. This is an interesting track for the sonic foreshadowing it represents. Softer and with an unusual amount of space to breathe. Later singles and albums would fit more into the category created by “Anne Harbour”, strangely this song wasn’t included on the follow up album, as it should have been. However, like “Forgive and Forget” this song also appears on the later album Eudora.
Closing it all out is “Mass Pike” which once again features heavier keyboard work and sounds more like the band The Get Up Kids will become. For better or worse, this song only exists on this EP, but is enough of a crowd favorite to have made it onto the live album released in 2005. This song bothers me, lyrically it’s very repetitive. This is the one guaranteed skip from the whole release and it’s the last song. As far as I’m concerned The Get Up Kids released a wild 4 track EP and this is just a single. “Last night on the Mass Pike, I thought I was losing you”, digs into your brain and sinks into hooks into you. It’s hard to ignore, and even harder to forget.
Overall, Red Letter Day EP is a phenomenal piece of music that deserves massive praise. It paved the way for the music of the early and mid 2000’s and their influence can be found in modern iterations of the genre. Some could argue that they practically invented emo pop. The band themselves thumb their nose at the notion, preferring to be called an “alternative rock band”, a description they’ve certainly earned in their post-reunion work. If you’re not into collecting vinyl, then both Woodson and Red Letter Day are available together on all streaming platforms. So where does this leave us? Hopefully, it leaves us all listening to Red Letter Day on repeat for the next couple of days. And if not, then at least pull up “One Year Later”; let that bass line crush you, and maybe two step a bit if your knees still allow it.
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