Recess Party is the brainchild of four current and former University of Georgia students. Blending a wide range of indie, rock, and metal influences, the quartet has now released their debut album, Paid In Full, to the world. Keeping the energy always present at their live performances, this moody project is cohesive while still ensuring that every band member is spotlighted. Upon inquiry, bassist Sam Smith disclosed that “the whole album outside of ‘Foot’ is pretty much [frontman] Riley [Stillwagon]’s perspective and experiences.
The first track, “Foot”, begins with some light strumming and the lyrics “Give me all of you; there’s not much to see / Cause I’ll take everything, when everything’s meant for me” before the rest of the band comes in. Riley asserts that openness and vulnerability are nothing of significance and that a future with an unnamed subject of desire could be destiny. This is one of the strongest performances of instrumentation on the record. Drummer Meghan Stewart and lead guitarist Christian Pullen are especially vibrant with the last minute of the song being purely instrumental. Consistently building up to its peak, the song reaches its emotional and lyrical climax in the last verse:
Don’t you speak for yourself if you’re self-diagnosing?Recess Party, Foot
Well, I promise I’ve got noth.ing worthy of solving
And I finished it once, aren’t my sins worth absolving?
Well, I know you well
Track three, “Different Bodies / Lights”, is brimming with energy. The raspy nature of Riley’s voice lends itself well to conveying a strong sense of distress. Speaking over the drums in the song, Meghan explains, “The constant busyness/motion of the groove is intended to create a feeling of barely restrained chaos within the song.” Lyrically, the relationship we are hearing about is toxic and incompatible. “Why can’t you spit it out; you wonder why I’ve grown so thin? / Can we just sound this out? Won’t you bless me with your wounds again?” These aren’t the words of someone whose relationship is uplifting them but rather someone who’s been left “suffocating” with “bloodshot eyes”.
“Happy Accidents” continues the through line of love hurting, and placing it fourth on the tracklist was a great decision. As we come to understand more about the nature of the relationship in question, Riley starts coming to terms with his own reality. He cries out to this woman in the chorus, “Unstable / Pick and choose again / Until you / You’re bound by emptiness.” The vocals are breathier and the track is more stripped back as the band builds up to the chorus. The almost three-minute instrumental outro is cinematic with excellent dynamics. The whole band, and most notably Christian, is really shredding here, so having heard it performed live several times, I can confidently say this is one of my favorites.
Track five, “Second Time” is the first to make use of an acoustic guitar. Here, Riley expresses ire towards his lover while still recognizing how much he doesn’t want to let go of what they have.
I don’t owe you; you don’t know my nameRecess Party, Second Time
But our breaths are held in compromised exchange
I don’t owe you; you don’t know her name
Can you take a second look and maybe
However, the words of this chorus soon change in both perspective and emotion.
You don’t owe me; please just say my nameRecess Party, Second Time
While I’m gasping at each breach under your waves
You don’t owe me; you don’t feel the same
Just take a second look and maybe
Yearning to be heard and for his feelings to be reciprocated, he begs to just be recognized; just maybe, his subject of desire will reconsider. The band stated that this song was originally named “Emo Song”, which would have been a clearly fitting title. There is a universal message in the song: unreciprocated love can push us to do things we’d be afraid of saying out loud.
The title track, “Paid In Full,” released as the album’s last single, is the best-written song on the album. The lead guitar and drum parts are rife with tension. Sam’s back-and-forth vocals with Riley on this track are essential. The lyrics “Are you sick? Know I tried / Paid in full. Empty tithe / Won’t you write this record ‘bout me now?” give us a firm answer as to what the song and album title means. Pining for love has left Riley with nothing but fatigue. Having given his full effort, or “paid it in full,” as a religious person offering tithes would, one might expect something in return. Sadly, that isn’t the case here.
Track eight, “Hypocrite,” was the first single the band released for this album, and you can read my review of it and their AthFest performance here.
“Range of Motions” closes out the album strongly. Vocally, it’s my favorite performance on the record, and bassist Sam really gets her opportunity to shine here. Understanding why things aren’t meant to be doesn’t usually stop us from pursuing those we desire, and that’s the story here too. With the context of all the previous songs, the lyrics “I swear I blocked your image out / In patterned, cyclic thinking / Now you’ve gone / I’ve gone” stick out the most. A greater understanding of his situation is the cause of great internal strife for Riley, and though he recognizes that fact, he can’t escape it.
The true highlight of this album for me, though, is the drumming. If the meaning of the song was unclear to me, I could focus on the drums and the meaning would become clearer. Likewise, Christian is almost always playing something that captivates me while Sam’s timing and chemistry with her bandmates make me envious. The album structure delivers a complete story, so I have to commend the band on the choices made regarding sequencing. These songs may well be a disconnected string of interactions with women, or they could be a collection of experiences between two people as I understood them to be. Regardless, they’re relatable, layered, and emblematic of the idea that love hurts.
Adeboye Adeoye is a student at the University of Georgia studying Economics, Sociology, and Music Business. As an avid playlist maker, he always looks for connections and themes across albums and genres. He listens primarily to Hip Hop but enjoys R&B, Neo-Soul, Pop, Afrobeats, Indie, and more beyond that as well.