One Step Closer 'Songs for the Willow EP'

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One Step Closer signal a sea change with Songs for the Willow. With last year’s This Place You Know, the band had already mastered a unique stripe of mournful melodic hardcore informed by eclectic emo influences. But on Songs for the Willow, they’ve tapped into a dynamic, emotionally powerful, and sonically intricate post-hardcore space inhabited by the charged aura and artistic nuance of landmark early 2010s records like Title Fight’s Floral Green and Touché Amoré’s Is Survived By. But ultimately, Songs for the Willow moves this sound forward into new territory.

While frontman Ryan Savitski explored clean singing on This Place You Know, he expands his vocal repertoire further here, pushing himself to an even wider range of styles and methods, from soaring highs to breathy lows and rousing harmonies. He makes for a spirited lead and consistent presence while guitar work from himself, Ross Thompson and newcomer Colman O’Brien weave sundry, compelling layers, never content to linger on one riff for too long.

“All three songs revolve around the problems that touring so much this last year have caused,” Savitski says of the thematic melancholy running through the EP. “Losing relationships, losing band members, losing a sense of what this band even means to everyone.” Savitski is still grateful for the growth his band experienced—they made memorable appearances on some of hardcore’s biggest stages (Sound and Fury, This Is Hardcore, and Outbreak festivals), supported scene staples on tour (Comeback Kid, Drug Church, Terror), and had This Place You Know land on respected publications’ Best of 2022 lists (Stereogum, BrooklynVegan). But Savitski also recognizes the sacrifices they made along the way, and that struggle imbues itself in the EP’s desperate tone. “I feel like this last year was the first time we’ve truly felt like a real band, but there were so many issues underlying that it made it hard to enjoy a lot of things.”

The band stepped outside their comfort zone to create Songs for the Willow, teaming with Jon Markson and Eric Chesek to record the EP and explore new sonic terrain. “[Markson] is such an awesome guy and [they] really pushed to get the best out of us the entire time,” Savitski says. “I think their creative minds helped us make something special. We tried a lot of new things for these songs and really pushed a vocal style I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”

Those three songs comprise a mighty trio of powerhouse mid-tempo fare that fire off stirring tempo and tonal changes, giving mere three-minute songs a dramatic, cinematic splendor. “Dark Blue” seems to yearn a loss through the picturesque changing of seasons. “Earlier this year driving through the Pacific Northwest,” Savitski recalls, “I was struggling with how much we were about to be touring this year. As much as I was excited, I was just as much scared of how the dynamic of my life at home would change. I almost felt like people would forget about me for some reason, or relationships would change while being away. I found comfort looking out the window of the van and seeing things I never thought I’d ever see, while simultaneously turning my head to see some of my best friends who I get to experience this life with. It made me feel conflicted—potentially lose the people you love at home, to do the thing you love just as much. This song represents those conflicting moments in time.”

“Turn to Me” wields a surprisingly melodic refrain while trying to maintain optimism amid despair. “Sometimes things happen and it changes relationships, and no matter how much you don’t want that to happen, it still does,” says Savitski. “I’ve experienced this a few times in my life and every time it makes me wonder why things can’t be the same as they were, until I finally realized it’s just part of growing. This song is about watching yourself and your friends grow up, but [also] further apart. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world and it really sucks to live with it everyday.” Following that, “T.T.S.P.” appropriately attempts to find closure with more natural imagery surrounding the search for solace.

All along, there’s an insistent, relentless forcefulness to each performance. After already cementing themselves as the best young band reviving genuine melodic hardcore, One Step Closer have now proven themselves as virtuosos of the impassioned post-hardcore mini-epic.