Last year Davey vonBohlen, lead singer and auteur of Milwaukee’s Promise Ring, underwent surgery to remove a benign growth in his brain. Since then he’s joked that the surgeon must have cut out all his fast songs along with the tumor, and the band’s fourth full-length album, Wood/Water (Anti-), proves he was only half kidding. The Promise Ring’s previous record, 1999’s Very Emergency, had positioned them as emo’s greatest hope, able to back up the heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality of their lyrics with brisk, punky tunes. But on Wood/Water every song is midtempo or slower, and the whole album is far more contemplative than Emergency, moving toward classic, 60s-inflected pop and for the most part leaving the gnarly guitars behind. There were times that I couldn’t believe I was actually listening to the Promise Ring. “My Life Is at Home” and “Letters to the Far Reaches” are acoustic-driven folk rock, and the lightly psychedelic “Suffer Never” features a keening synth part that winds upward like something from the Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin. The epic ballad “Say Goodbye Good” is even further out of character: like a latter-day “Hey Jude,” it swells into an endlessly repeated chorus, replete with strings and a gospel choir. Only a few of the band’s emo-inappropriate gestures would bother anybody but a purist, though–they hit the mark more often than not. “Size of Your Life” is a hard shuffle reminiscent of Creedence or the Stones, and in “Stop Playing Guitar” and “Become One Anything One Time” vonBohlen has written some of the strongest melodies of his career. Friday, May 17, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stephen Carty.