Old Man Markley, with their mesh of pop-punk energy and old-time instrumentation, have a lot going for them. Their latest album, Down Side Up, is downright rollicking, full of catchy tunes, solid vocal harmonies, and airtight instrumentation. Songs such as “Hard to Understand”, “Train of Thought”, and opener “Blood on My Hands” are built of catchy hooks, but none of them tread exactly the same ground. And while all of this is, in the moment, bracing, the question of what ground exactly they’re treading seems the central question. The instruments may recall bluegrass, but the melodies would sound exactly the same over a bed of power chords.
That’s all to say that these songs don’t mesh genres so much as borrow from two without, in the end, quite representing either. This musical limbo wouldn’t be a huge problem—the energy here helps gloss over such things—if it weren’t for lyrics that seem to be trying to tap into tradition by way of cliché. “When it rains, it pours,” the band belts out in the first track, only to travel similarly familiar ground later by saying things like “nothing’s black and white, it’s all grey” and “no one’s buying what you’re selling.” When it’s not dealing in stock lines, it sometimes gets trapped in goofball allusions (“Don’t want to lose my mind like Gary Busey did”) or preachy politics (see “American Dreaming”). In the end, Down Side Up has plenty of solid musical moments, but the ideas they present feel undercooked in comparison.