Making the jump from the basement, bedroom, garage, etc. to the studio is always a bit treacherous, especially for musicians that exude such raw talent. More than a few groups have stumbled a bit making that transition over the years. But Pittsburgh-based three-piece Curse Words have traversed that gauntlet with grace, as evidenced by their full-length studio debut, Doggie Heaven.

Composed of guitarist/vocalist/occasional bassist Billy Simmons, bassist/vocalist/occasional guitarist Cal Tarasi and drummer Becir Paco, this wickedly talented trio has crafted some of the most affecting emo music of the last several years. The group’s previous EP, what?, was a homespun effort packed with stunning guitar riffs, powerful bursts of existentialism and heartfelt generosity. Those same traits are present and accounted for on Doggie Heaven, with even stronger songwriting and an extra sheen of time-honed polish glossing the tracks. The album’s opener ‘Can’t Bruise The [Tom] Cruise’ begins with a punchy tour of the kit from Paco, before Simmons and Tarasi push the track forward with an earworm riff and surprisingly deft groove. Curse Words waste no time in pushing out the punishing heartbreak, however, with Simmons wailing, “I swore that I’d be more than a sad excuse for company in my twenties.”

A few tracks from what? have been revamped for Doggie Heaven, including the absolutely scintillating (and verbosely titled) ‘You Had Me At Horses, But Then You Lost Me At Corpses’. Simmons’ riff is among the best of 2017 — or in recent memory, for that matter. The group quickly comes together with unconditional unity here, with each member performing their respective part with masterful precision. Doggie Heaven always has its listeners hooked, but a better track than ‘You Had Me At Horses’ could not have been picked for the album’s halfway point. It reenergizes the listener and makes anyone eager to power through the final 20 minutes.

Despite the seriousness of compiling a 40-minute LP, Curse Words still prove they can have some fun. The album is littered with fun titles (‘Cigarettes Don’t Grow On Trees’ and ‘Man, I’m Slammin’, amongst others) and creatively fashioned tracks, including ‘BF II’, which features Simmons noodling a guitar part that happens to synchronize almost perfectly with Tarasi playing the classic Star Wars video game Battlefront II.

Doggie Heaven is the result of Curse Words playing with contradictory emotions. The album manages to be fun and heartbreaking, twinkly and foreboding, polished and raw all at the same time. Very few bands can carry one of those feelings convincingly for one song, let alone for an entire 11-song LP. But Curse Words does it all, and they do it with a deft blend of consummate professionalism and house show-style fun that is emblematic of the band’s collection. And considering that Doggie Heaven is available to download for free via Bandcamp, there really is no excuse to skip out on this polished, poignant LP.