It’s a well know fact that pop-punk, as we know it today, is a genre built on the backs of three-piece bands; a long and rich tradition, including the likes of such veteran acts as Blink-182, Green Day and MxPx. These tight units of drums, guitar and bass have become ubiquitous among purists and the mainstream alike as tried and true and seminal. More remarkably, the masters behind the genre are still accepted and celebrated within the tight knit DIY scenes of their ancestry long after entering into radio rotation. Now, some 20 years since these aforementioned artists released their first 7-inch, Broadway Calls—with their third full-length album, Comfort/ Distraction—have cemented a place in this legacy.
It’s been a long road for the Oregonian trio, involving a myriad of record labels, stop-gap releases, a hiatus and multiple near-breakups. If this record—an exemplary effort in pop-punk excellence—proves one thing, it’s this: When a band thoroughly counted-out and well past their prime (by anyone’s assertion) is able to focus their energy into an urgency, not only will this produce their best album yet, but the best the genre has seen this year; not to mention, one with more energy and agility than any band fresh out of their teens would possess on their debut LP.
While this is by no means a ground-breaking pop-punk album, it is certainly a greatly balanced one. Tracks like “Bring On The Storm” and “Stealing Sailboats”, both bombastic and reckless, whilst contained, flirt with the playfulness of power-pop and a willingness to temper the more vigorous aspects of their past. “Open Letter” flips the script and embraces their moderated aggression in more than just the timbre of Ty Vaughn’s inventive guitar riffs and the distinguished syncopation of bassist Adam Willis and drummer Josh Baird, but in lyrical content as well. It’s a song of devotion and the band’s past, their hometown, those they love and the nostalgia that comes with it. Digging even deeper into these roots, and that of genre itself, “Minus One” and “Surrounded By Ghosts” channel Dookie-era Green Day with a one-two punch of classic three-chord punk progressions.
By the end of the record, it’s apparent that what this album does best is represent a consistency not often found within this pocket of DIY. Although a couple of sore thumbs stray among the lot, missteps are generally contained and compartmentalized within the lyrics or instrumentals of the track, never both; this is evidenced most clearly in the lyrically simple and obliviously cheesy “Zombie World”, and the chorus-heavy and repetitive “I’ll Be There”.
Not since the summer of 2011—when the Wonder Years released Suburbia: I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing—has a pop-punk album been so carefully and expertly constructed like Comfort/ Distraction. It’s a record that is absolutely free of fat and filler, brimming with the gusto and brattiness of their predecessors, and grounded on tight and in-the-pocket musicianship. A true gem within a genre so often stuck in its past.