Cautiously exuberant. It’s a phrase that bleeds youth, optimism and excitement, all the while suggesting that whomever it describes is probably looking down at his or her own shoes while physically, emotionally, verbally, or musically displaying such a combination of words. The adolescence is there. The naiveté is there. The blessed ignorance is there. And the confidence is there. It describes something or someone in a light that is adored and often admired. It’s a hard thing to pull off successfully. And it’s certainly something that takes time to develop.
It’s also a phrase that perfectly describes punk rockers Shady Ave.’s latest effort, Common Sound. From the crunchy guitars, to the gutter-filled voice of lead singer Joel Masters, to the angry, yet sometimes optimistic stories, to the fast-paced tempos, to the youthful, anti-everything tone that clearly flows throughout the entire album, there is only one real way to describe this release. And what is that? You guessed it: cautiously exuberant.
With no song clocking in at a second over three-and-a-half minutes, and only one breaking the three-minute barrier, Common Sound is a fun-filled ride that provides all the youthful angst that any former/current/wannabe punk rocker could ask for. Its in-your-face tenor combines with a pop sensibility to make one of the best—and truest—punk rock albums you’ve probably never heard. Led by Masters’s scowl that just has to be the love child of Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba and Chuck Ragan’s best Hot Water Music days, each track is a whirlwind of emotion and aggression, two things that have always gone hand in hand in the best punk rock releases.
The fun begins with “Standards”, a minute-and-a-half opening track that provides a perfect window into what appears to be coming around the bend on Common Sound. Masters’s scruffy voice pounces on top of an effects-laden guitar for the first 20 seconds before the rest of the band joins the party and provides a hard-sounding minute’s worth of defiant, rowdy rock that eventually climaxes with a sing-along proclaiming “What you believe / Don’t mean shit to me” before coming to an end.
“Bother You”, “Clean Slate”, and the album-ending “Rumblestrips” all keep the spirits high and cadence fast with their common ambition to prove a point and prove it quick. While the last is probably the most bouncy Shady Ave. gets, it still grips tightly the youthfully aggressive attitude that shines so well throughout the entire effort, as guitarist Ryan Williamson sings a song dripping with self doubt and revelatory thoughts. And both “Clean Slate” and “Bother You” hit you so violently hard over the head with their attack-laden tempos that you can practically feel the sweat form on your forehead as you long deeply for a mosh pit to fall into.
The only real time Common Sound suffers is when the boys decide to sway away from that very notion of hard, fast, dirty and fun, and lean more toward the serious aspects of life. “Kernel”, the album’s fifth track, begins promisingly, but ultimately falls victim to lackluster verses filled with a story that is seemingly about loss. Sure, the vibe doesn’t falter, but the sentiment behind such an attempt only serves as a failed counterbalance to the better, more bubbly tracks that can be found on other spots of the record. “Protest Song” is another minor misstep, as the band takes time to reflect on just how much their voices don’t matter. Though the intent is admirable—and the results even a bit witty, for that matter—the song comes across as a series of whiny complaints that don’t quite fit into what the album wants to be more than anything else: A nice, simple punk rock record.
Besides, what truly makes Common Sound a solid release is its sheer desire to try and eliminate all pretense around making music in the first place. It’s quick. It’s in your face. It’s mindless. It’s mindful. It’s about friends. It’s about good times. And most importantly, it’s about having fun while not giving a damn about anything else in the world except having fun.
“We’re not breaking new ground… It’s all been done and better”, Masters proclaims on the album’s title track. He might be right. But even he has to know that sometimes, being the best doesn’t really matter all that much. Because—as Shady Ave. proves with this particular release—there’s something to be said for a band who knows how to have a good time, too.