Pop punk and emo fell out of fashion in the indie world after “emo” was commercialized into the ground and every crappy band on MTV in the early-aughts sounded like horrible, auto-tuned pop versions of At the Drive-In, Braid, the Promise Ring, Jawbreaker, and early Saves the Day. Recently however, bands like Cloud Nothings, Wavves, and Japandroids have brought the emo/pop punk sound back by writing great songs and combining them with noise, surf, and other styles previously not associated with the genre. Although indie rock forefathers Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr, and Squirrel Bait were combining noise and pop melodies in the early ‘80s, that sound has been coming back around in recent years. Vacation is another band carrying the torch.
Vacation is a three-piece from Cincinnati, Ohio, trafficking in noisy pop punk. The band can sound like a cross between Green Day and No Age, poppy three or four chord melodies, with wall-of-sound distortion to make sure things don’t get too pretty. They mostly succeed in finding the perfect balance between catchy songwriting, clamoring guitars, and a hard-hitting rhythm section. Since forming in 2010, the band has released one full length and several EPs, finally landing on Don Giovanni’s roster for their new album Candy Waves. Don Giovanni, home to the Screaming Females, Brick Mower, and Shellshag (just to name a few), is a big hub for noisy pop punk bands, having grown out of the local New Brunswick basement scene. Vacation wouldn’t be out of place at any New Brunswick basement show, and so Don Giovanni is a perfect fit for the Midwestern band.
Punk has always been rooted in the power of the song and that certainly goes double for any sort of pop punk band. The best bands write great songs, period. Luckily, Candy Waves is chock full of great impassioned songs and raw energy. The songs often embody pure adrenaline and the wild antics of youth. Album opener “Pyro Hippies” kicks off with a barrage of feedback as Vacation’s drummer Jerri Westerkamp sings, “Because we acted like saviors / Who practice bad behavior / When everything came crashing like a wave.” Westerkamp is the lead vocalist and, taking cues from the likes of Hüsker Dü, sings with all the passion that Grant Hart was able to muster behind the kit in the ‘80s. The second track, “Make a Mess” kicks off with Evan Wolff’s driving bass line as ear-piercing guitars from Peyton Copes accentuate the song’s forward motion. Westerkamp lets loose at the end of the song by venting youthful frustration and screaming his heart out like a slightly more emo Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus.
Sonically, Candy Waves isn’t too far away from Fuckin’ A-era the Thermals. Westerkamp’s vocals are sewn with distortion and the grime throughout the album’s recording gives the vibe of a DIY basement show. ”SFA” is a track worthy of mid-90’s Green Day and the hook “so far away from here” is an instant earworm. The title track “Candy Waves” is another standout, complete with piano and layered backing vocals. It recalls the warped guitar pop grime of Surfer Rosa-era Pixies filtered through the sunny harmonies of Surfin’ USA-era Beach Boys as Westerkamp proclaims, “Happiness, we’re still awaiting our fate.”
“Everybody Loves the Sun” and “Cellophane” could easily pass for songs off of Nathan Williams’ first two albums as Wavves. However, the music and playing are way more developed than on those early-Wavves records and the sound isn’t nearly as blown out. Not every song here is a winner though and “Thick Skinned” and “Straight to My Head” don’t do much to standout from the pack. Awesomely, those are the only two songs that don’t have any parts that really shine. Most of the songs betray a real talent for melodic hooks; truly pop punk at its best. The ending of “Feedback Got Me High” is a prime example. The song walks the perfect balance between earworm melodies and blown out guitar noise while Westerkamp repeats “feedback has got me high” and the song sprints to a finish. Candy Waves is another solid record from a powerful band and hopefully this album gets Vacation some well-deserved attention.