Post-punk, power pop, and indie rock prove complements across six tracks.
Feedback squeals, a guitar hums to life, some driving, fuzzed-out bass enters the fray, and a tenacious motorik drum beat kicks in, setting Mission Trip’s latest EP into a sprint. Those opening seconds alone hint at the band’s command of craft, which is further underscored when “Expect That”—the record’s eponymous first track—abruptly breaks into a mid-tempo, Replacements-esque verse. From that break, the song ratchets up the intensity, oscillating between searing post-punk and acoustic guitar-aided power pop. As a result, Mission Trip brings to mind two local contemporaries in Disq and Interlay. (Isaac DeBroux-Slone of Disq serves as the record’s producer, and proves an incredibly naturalistic fit. And it should not come as a shock to sharp-eared listeners that three of Mission Trip’s members are also currently in Interlay.)
Mission Trip—a relatively new Madison quintet made up of guitarist/vocalist Sam Eklund, guitarist/vocalist Jasper Nelson, bassist Zachary Vincent Dunn, synth player Reegan Franzmeier, and drummer Henry Ptacek—sounds like a band who have been playing together for an eternity, rather than a few years. Everything on Expect That comes across as extraordinarily intuitive. Each member’s performance enhances what their bandmates bring to the table. A good deal of the record’s non-musician listeners won’t understand how complex a task it is to achieve both immediacy and longevity in music, but everything on Expect That connects instantly and sticks. Those cumulative effects don’t happen without a significant degree of both creative prowess and control, two aspects Mission Trip exhibits in spades across the EP.
Take the combined effect of the EP’s final two tracks, “Drivers Seat” and “Try, Try, Try,” for instance. Those two tracks form the climactic peaks of Expect That, with their impact growing in successive order, up to the point of the final snare-stabbed, quasi-psychedelic guitar riffing of “Try, Try, Try.” In a standalone context, the moment feels like fog rolling in after a storm. Placed within the context of the whole work, it’s cannonball smoke rolling over a decimated field of war. Preceding “Try, Try, Try” is “Driver’s Seat,” a seven-plus minute centerpiece that evokes the vocal melody of Pavement’s “Range Life” before subverting the lackadaisical vibe into a more pointed middle ground. Over the final quarter of “Driver’s Seat,” Mission Trip lands somewhere between the soaring epics of Strand Of Oaks and the oddly absorbing frenzy of art-punk weirdos Empath, inadvertently emphasizing the range of influences that define Expect That.
Lyrically, Mission Trip shift between a few different modes, and when the lyrics can be clearly discerned, they’re well-articulated in moments of introspection, defeatism, and slivers of optimism. (The band adheres to the tried-and-true half-mumbled, frequently understated indie rock vocal delivery approach that still manages to convey emotional weight.) “Rapid City,” a jaw-droppingly huge track that arrives early in the EP, hits on all three: “Fucked up / No luck / No plan / Oh, man / This ain’t my kind of party / Here we are / Pulling up / As the sky’s turning gray / Getting dark / Feeling lost / Looking for brighter days,” intones Eklund. A brooding cavalcade of distortion complements the narrative before Mission Trip erupts into a guitar freakout in an exhilarating bridge, before diving straight back into the maelstrom of conflicted emotions underpinning the progression of “Rapid City.” (Franzmeier contributes additional guitar work on the track, adding to its enormity.)
On “Stranger Ranger,” the lyrics take a more accepting route, painting a portrait of an unnamed figure the narrator finds aspirational. An ostensibly platonic love song, “Stranger Ranger” is a nice change-of-pace for listeners who will—far more likely than not—have been conditioned to expect paeans of unrequited love, rather than songs that communicate genuine fondness for someone without the expectation of romance. “I understand your charm” and “I like your style” appear to be matter-of-fact measures of interest. Like most of the songs on Expect That, the instrumentation on “Stranger Ranger” oscillates between mid- and accelerated tempos, with cutting guitar figures from Eklund and Nelson, Dunn’s fuzzed bass, and strong drumming conjuring up an incredibly inviting level of energy. “Stranger Ranger” is the back-end of a two-song run that constitutes the EP’s most party-friendly moment, bringing to mind memories of the types of late-night house shows that Mission Trip should be flourishing at in the present.
“Station,” the track that precedes “Stranger Ranger,” comprises the other half of the Expect That songs that feel most suited to a sweaty, all-night house party. Feedback, synth, fluttering cymbals, and an emphatic, tempo-establishing kick drum pattern open “Station,”—the only track on Expect That besides “Try, Try, Try” to feature Nelson on lead vocals—setting the stage for an explosive indie-punk track that boasts Expect That‘s most forceful, scream-along chorus: “Please stand clear of the closing door / So I can’t touch you anymore / Sitting alone, think you know what’s going on.” Guitar pyrotechnics dominate “Station” as well; no Madison band’s guitar work has been this outwardly fiery since Dear Mr. Watterson’s 2021 EP, Confusion Perfected. And while “Station” and “Stranger Ranger” ably demonstrate the band’s ability to lean into full-throated, hard-charging indie-punk, they also still hint at the emotional and stylistic depth found on the EP’s four other tracks.
Expect That is a genuinely great record on its own merits. As a debut, it’s eye-popping. Hearing this level of seemingly innate understanding of craft from any band dabbling in Mission Trip’s chosen genres, let alone a young one, is rare. To do it on a debut release indicates that the band is well on their way to establishing themselves as a force both within and beyond Madison’s borders. From its opening squall of feedback to its closing ones, Expect That latches onto a sense of invigoration that’s impossible to shake. “We’re stopping under no conditions,” goes a line in “Rapid City,” but by the end of the EP, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Mission Trip has arrived.
Listeners can stream Expect That via the embedded YouTube player above and at Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal.