[6 December 2012]
PopMatters Events Editor
If last year was a reminder that “pop-punk’s not dead”, then perhaps 2012 was a celebration of the vitality and diversity of the genre. Anymore, the lines between pop, punk, indie, and like have become blurred to the point of near irrelevance. Nevertheless, the Internet affords people the opportunity to jump to the defense of a band at any given moment, slapping labels onto sounds and adding to the confusion of what’s supposed to be called what. Pity the writers who must describe the music at hand, lest they step on toes and offend a band or listener who wish no association with certain genres and bands. Fortunately for those of us who understand how the need for such terms can be arbitrary, but also sometimes necessary, there seems to be enough room under the pop-punk umbrella for all of us.
Pop-punk still means something to me, not just for nostalgic reasons, but because it continues to provide a voice, regardless of your age or circumstance. Bands like Yellowcard and the Early November have returned with a vengeance, reaching far beyond their initial audience and tapping into a completely new listening base. New bands like Pentimento and Such Gold have drawn the appeal of older punk enthusiasts, while also capturing the attention of younger listeners in search of something a little deeper and better. There is life in this genre, and with upcoming releases from the likes of Paramore, Blink-182, and the always-possible Fall Out Boy reunion looming in the upcoming year, it doesn’t appear that things will be slowing down any time soon. Kiel Hauck
10I Call Fives
Full disclosure: I Call Fives is a guilty pleasure. It’s the summer album you blast in your stereo with the windows down as you drive with no destination in mind. It’s the catchy hook that gets stuck in your head for days on end. It’s infectious. And all of this is okay, regardless of what the scene snobs might say. Jeff Todd took over vocals for the band in 2009 and absolutely steals the show on the band’s debut full-length. There’s not a lot of diversity here and it’s not necessarily a game changer, but it’s one hell of a fun ride. Songs like “Backup Plan” and “The Fall Guy” feature insanely catchy choruses, while the guitars on “Late Nights” are delightful. If a large part of pop-punk is about having fun, I Call Fives are having the time of their lives.
9Sparks the Rescue
Last year, Sparks the Rescue snuck into this list with Worst Thing I’ve Been Cursed With before being subsequently dropped from their label and going the independent/Kickstarter route. The resulting product is the band’s best work to date, kicking off with the furious opener “Disaster” before cracking into the infectious “Water Your Heart”. Slower tracks like “Phoenix” add a little depth and variety to the seven-song EP and showcase a new direction for the band. Perhaps moving away from the constraints brought on by label politics has not only helped salvage the band’s future, but also allowed Sparks the Rescue breathing room to discover who they really are.
Instead of waiting around to see if Panic Records would release its new album as promised, Buffalo, NY band Pentimento went ahead and released it itself. For free. Damn the man. What’s amazing is that the price tag in no way matches the quality of their debut full-length. Instead, Pentimento is one of the most surprising and enjoyable debuts to be released this year. “Days Away” and “Almost Atlantic” are adrenaline filled and full of passion, while featuring fantastic melodies—think a poppier version of Polar Bear Club. Meanwhile, “The Bridge” is one of the best acoustic tracks to be released in the genre this year. All in all, there’s literally no reason not to get this album. As a matter of fact, if you stop reading right now to go download it, I wouldn’t blame you.
It would be shameful not to include the latest album from a band that not only helped shape the pop-punk genre for the past two decades, but also influenced a certain writer’s music predilections from an early age. Plans Within Plans, the band’s ninth proper full-length, kicks off with the fiery “Aces Up” and never takes it’s foot off of the gas pedal. For the fans who had been clamoring for more of the “old” MxPx sound, Plans surely doesn’t disappoint. The album is a riotous affair, with “Far Away” serving as one of many in-your-face punk tracks that have defined the band’s legacy. It’s amazing that a band 20 years into their career can still outplay most of today’s heavy hitters, and it doesn’t appear that MxPx plans on hanging it up any time soon.
6All Time Low
Quite possibly one of the most polarizing bands in the scene, All Time Low got its taste of major label life during the writing, recording, and release of last year’s Dirty Work, an album that failed to realize any of the promise found in the band. Luckily, All Time Low has found itself back within the family of Hopeless Records and has bounced back with its best album since 2007’s So Wrong, It’s Right. Don’t Panic features all of the infectious hooks and melodies that made the band a draw to begin with, while showcasing a shocking maturity. Vocalist/guitarist Alex Gaskarth sounds rejuvenated as the band abandons its chase for mainstream appeal and instead focuses on its strengths. “Outlines”, featuring the welcome vocals of former Acceptance frontman Jason Vena may very well be the best song in the band’s catalogue to date.
At this point, Go Radio is likely associated with pop-punk more due to reputation than actual output. 2011’s Lucky Street was a foreshadowing of the band’s more pop-oriented direction, more fully realized in Close the Distance. Honestly, labeling the album pop-punk might be a disservice, as the album expands far, far beyond the parameters of the genre, yet deserves every ounce of recognition it can get. Jason Lancaster’s vocals soar throughout the Close the Distance, which winds through mellow and more upbeat numbers effortlessly. Opener “I Won’t Lie” and lead single “Go to Hell” exhibit possible crossover material, while “Things I Don’t See” and “Hear Me Out” showcase a band with arena-filling anthem aspirations. If Go Radio continues to improve and refine their sound with their next release, look out.
4The Early November
Rarely do band reunions result in a product that not only merits the anticipation, but also goes beyond expectations. With In Currents, Ace Enders and company show some of the fire found on 2003’s debut The Room’s Too Cold, while adding plenty of new tricks to the playbook. Songs like “Digital Age” serve as a change of pace and also shed light on Ender’s frustrations with the scene. Fortunately, those frustrations have led to a passionate return to form after it appeared that the band may have been done for good. As is, the Early November’s fresh blend of alt-rock and pop-punk is a nostalgic road trip with its eyes set straight ahead.
3Motion City Soundtrack
Motion City Soundtrack is a band that has covered a number of different genres while blurring the lines between pop and punk over the course of its career. Their latest release, Go, is a time capsule of the band’s career, reflecting on past mistakes and pains and then choosing to move forward. “Circuits and Wires” is one of the most enjoyable tracks of the year, while “The Coma Kid” and “Boxelder” add a change of pace and drive the album forward. Justin Pierre’s storytelling abilities shine once again on the likes of “Timelines”, as he declares, “Take it in and hold on while you can / All the destruction will one day end / And you’ll finally know exactly who you are.” These lines capture the heart of Go, an album that refuses to remain still, but begs for progress and self-realization.
While it may ruffle some feathers to see Such Gold’s Misadventures listed on a pop-punk list, the album is just too damn good not to mention. Furthermore, there was a time not so long ago when the pop-punk genre wasn’t defined by autotuned vocals, cool haircuts, and neon clothes. Such Gold captures the fire that the genre had at the outset, and leans much more on punk than it does pop. Regardless, the album rips from front to back with some of the best guitar work you’ll hear this year. The fact that Misadventures is so ear pleasing and catchy in the midst of its raucous and fast-paced framework is a testament to the band’s ability as songwriters and their knack for execution. You’ll be hard pressed to find a debut this year as good as Misadventures.
To put it simply, Southern Air is Yellowcard’s best album, which is saying a lot considering the band’s catalogue contains the classic Ocean Avenue and the criminally underappreciated Paper Walls. Instead of falling into a comfort zone and coasting after last year’s reunion and the subsequent release of the well-received When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, the band pushed itself as hard as ever, crafting an album that pays respect to its past while embodying everything that should be expected of a pop-punk album in 2012. There is no filler on Southern Air, which opens with the magnificent “Awakening”, a soaring track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Always Summer” captures the trademark Yellowcard sound at its best, while “Telescope” and “Surface of the Sun” showcase the growth in vocalist Ryan Key’s songwriting. Likewise, violinist Sean Mackin and drummer LP shine like never before. It appears Yellowcard has used its second chance to show everyone within earshot what a pop-punk album is supposed to sound like.