If you’re older than, say, 25, chances are you don’t spend much time in the punk section in your local record store. That is, unless you’re buying reissues by The Clash, The Ramones, Bad Religion, or Turbonegro. After all, punk is one of the most rigid forms of rock music, so the fact that it tends to appeal to teens as opposed to those 10, 15 years older is understandable, since many folks simply tire of all the repetition, many conceding that punk will never get better than the music produced by the genre’s progenitors. Most of today’s popular new punk doesn’t sound fresh to most older listeners at all, and it’s getting tougher and tougher for casual rock fans to tell the difference between the sincere punks and the phony ones; so much so, that they just wind up ignoring most of it, letting the kids have their fun with their dozens of cookie cutter bands, and casually avoiding the punk section in the store. However, if there’s one band who is going to lure the old fogies back to the punk section, it’ll be Canadian indie heroes Alexisonfire.
The St. Catherines, Ontario band has become one of the most pleasant success stories in Canadian music this summer, as their combination of mainstream punk, hardcore, and emo has managed to slowly wriggle its way onto mainstream charts. Touring with a tenacity like no other Canadian band, playing in every nook and cranny in the country, Alexisonfire has steadily built a fervent fanbase, strictly by word of mouth over the past couple years. It was something Canadian music channel Much Music was quick to notice, as videos for songs like “Pulmonary Archery” and “Counterparts & Number Them” quickly received heavy airplay. All the band’s hard work was rewarded this past June, when their new album Watch Out! debuted at #6 on the Canadian albums chart, without the help of a major label, nor any radio airplay whatsoever.
While the debut Alexisonfire was a roaring, intense, often cacophonous piece of work that prominently featured the throat-shredding, Locust style scream of vocalist George Pettit, Watch Out! shows remarkable growth, adventurousness, and even more admirably, restraint, giving us some of the most refreshing punk/screamo/whatever-you-want-to-call-it we’ve heard in a long time. This time around, the dynamic between screamer Logan and guitarist/singer Dallas Green is played up even more, and because Logan doesn’t dominate as much, the contrast works remarkably well. Hardcore fans will be screaming, “sellout!” and it’s true that the combination of one screaming vocalist with another, more smooth-voiced crooner is quickly becoming a predictable screamo gimmick, but, in all honesty, Watch Out! is perfectly executed crossover punk, and with Pettit not dominating as much as he did on the last album, mainstream success south of the border now seems more of an inevitability than ever before.
If there’s one song that’s going to break this band, it’ll be the very catchy “Accidents”, as Pettit and Green trade lead vocals over a relentless arrangement that comes frighteningly close to matching the intensity of At the Drive-In, boasting a fantastic, Misfits style shout-along chorus. “Control”, and “Hey, It’s Your Funeral Mama” are two more very good, high-intensity efforts, but the most interesting musical shift is during the album’s middle section, where the band goes for a more expansive, big-sounding blend of Deftones style roaring guitars (as opposed to their usual tight, almost metal-inspired riffs), slower tempos, and strong vocal harmonies, best exemplified by “It Was Fear of Myself That Made Me God”, “Side Walk When She Walks”, and “No Transitory”. Before it can begin to sound stale, the album regains the momentum it had on the opening two tracks, coming to a fierce close with “Get Fighted” and the jarring “Happiness By the Kilowatt”.
The young band sometimes sounds like they’re trying to do too much at once, but these guys are so full of youthful enthusiasm and ambition (they’re barely in their 20s), that the odd slip is forgivable. “Music isn’t dead”, Logan screams at one point, “Maybe we just forgot what it fucking sounded like.” Watch Out! might not turn rock music on its ear, but at least Alexisonfire is trying to do something about rock’s current stagnant state. Even better yet, it serves up a dose of energetic music that’ll have mainstream music fans cautiously making their way back to that punk section in the record store. A word to the wise, though: ask for “Alexis on fire”, not “Alex is on fire”, and you’ll do just fine.