[14 December 2011]
PopMatters Events Editor
It wouldn’t be out-of-line to admit that evidence had been mounting over the past few years that the once plentiful and vibrant genre of pop-punk was beginning to ring a bit hollow. An oversaturation of similar sounding bands combined with a lack of innovation and increasingly shallow subject matter appeared to be leading to the death of pop-punk as we knew it. Fortunately, before the final bells of the genre had tolled, 2011 happened. Sure, it’s probably an overreaction to label this year as one of pop-punk’s revival, but in a sense, a number of bands have taken on the task of breathing new life back into the music and have done so quite successfully.
This fall, when New Found Glory, the Wonder Years, and Set Your Goals headed out on the aptly named “Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour”, it was as much a statement about their intent as it was a chance to showcase their new records. Certainly, there were some duds this year (we’re looking at you, All Time Low), but there were far more success stories. The triumphant return of scene veterans (Blink-182, Yellowcard), the rise of bands previously on the cusp of greatness (the Wonder Years, Fireworks), and a few surprises from unlikely places thrown in for good measure (Mayday Parade, Sparks the Rescue). It’s true, pop-punk is not dead. Far from it. And now is the perfect time to celebrate some of the best albums from a year that helped put the genre back on the map. Kiel Hauck
10Sparks the Rescue
It’s difficult to know how seriously to take Portland, Maine, pop-punk act Sparks the Rescue. Whether lamenting a break-up in the form of “She’s a Bitch, and I’m a Fool” or celebrating drug and alcohol induced festivities on “The Better Side of Me”, the band’s lyrics sometimes smack of immaturity and boorishness. On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore the fantastic guitar work throughout the album, along with the group’s obvious knack for crafting catchy tunes. Sparks the Rescue has essentially trimmed the fat from its promising 2008 debut Eyes to the Sun and put together one of the most fun—and guiltiest—pleasures of 2011.
Although it appeared that Simple Plan had disappeared following the release of its 2008 self-titled album, apparently the band was riding a wave of success overseas, taking a two-year break from touring in the States. In response to its absence, Simple Plan exploded back onto the Warped Tour scene this year in support of its new effort Get Your Heart On!. A return to the bratty sound of the group’s earlier work, Simple Plan’s latest effort is a fast-paced, good natured romp that doesn’t feel old or rehashed. Featuring guest appearances from Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth, Get Your Heart On! is a welcome return for Simple Plan to the world of radio rock.
Since his days upon leaving Mayday Parade, vocalist and guitarist Jason Lancaster has been hard at work on his new project, Go Radio. Having released a couple of EPs over the past few years, the band’s debut full-length Lucky Street is more straightforward pop-rock than anything, but has just enough of a punk element to be included on this list. Featuring a wide array of sounds—ranging from fiery and urgent (“Any Other Heart”) to mellow and anthemic (“Goodnight Moon”, “Forever My Father”)—Lucky Street showcases the best of what the group has to offer. With a solid lineup and an obvious knack for catchiness, Go Radio has excelled with its 2011 debut.
7New Found Glory
Veteran pop-punk act New Found Glory serves as one of the most consistent bands in the genre. Sure, there’s the occasional sidetrack such as 2006’s alt-rock outing Coming Home or 2009’s heavier-than-usual Not Without a Fight, but when it comes to New Found Glory, one thing’s for certain: it’s all coming from the heart. RadioSurgery is a fast outing, clocking in at just over 30 minutes as the band barely gives the listener a chance to catch his breath. Harkening back to ensemble’s earlier days, this release is truly pop-punk in every sense of the term. Fast paced, full of energy, and possessing just the right amount of gloss, RadioSurgery will likely be remembered as the album that put the band back on the map in the pop-punk world.
6Red City Radio
Oklahoma City natives Red City Radio have been quietly making their mark on the punk scene in 2011 in the form of one of the year’s best debuts. Full of fire and energy, the band’s first full-length manages to pull off the rare feat of capturing drunken punk revelry within the frame of a thinking man’s band. Red City Radio never takes its foot off of the gas throughout the album’s 13 tracks, as Paul Pendley’s gritty vocal work fits perfectly into the group’s sound. Crunchy guitars, gang vocals, and an adrenaline pumping pace—just a few of the things that make The Dangers of Standing Still one of the year’s finest, and an example of what punk should sound like.
One of the most under-hyped albums of the year, Gospel is a huge step forward from 2009’s All I Have to Offer Is My Own Confusion, helping to put Detroit’s Fireworks on the pop-punk map. The always-recognizable vocals of Dave Mackinder sound more impressive than ever, as does the guitar work of Chris Mojan and Brett Jones. Fireworks quite simply have a sound all their own: they still perfectly utilize the art of catchy hooks and thoughtful lyricism, while also throwing in enough changes of pace throughout the course of Gospel to keep things interesting. Although their sound may not be accessible enough to catch on with the mainstream crowd, it’s a challenge very much worth taking on.
When Mayday Parade released its major label debut Anywhere But Here in 2009, it was apparent that more had been lost than just the presence of former vocalist and songwriter Jason Lancaster. The group’s sound had been noticeably overhauled due to the label’s insistence on providing songwriters and giving the band a more accessible polish. Now once again independent and free to write its own songs, Mayday Parade has surpassed expectations with this year’s self-titled release. On Mayday Parade, the band recaptures the spark found on their earlier work, reintroducing dual vocals courtesy of drummer Jake Bundrick, who complements Derek Sanders well. The rest of the group sounds as tight as ever, especially on tracks like “Oh Well, Oh Well” and “I’d Rather Make Mistakes Than Nothing at All”.
It wasn’t that long ago that it appeared that the Mark, Tom, and Travis Show was done for good. However, following an improbable series of events, the door for communication was reopened and the mending of old friendships had begun. Although the status of those friendships is still hazy and the majority of the album was written and recorded in separate studios (with correspondence taking place via emails and phone calls), it’s that very tension and uneasiness lying below the surface of Neighborhoods that makes the record great. Sure, there’s influence from Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker’s +44 and Tom DeLonge’s Angels and Airwaves projects, but each track feels very “Blink”, even if there’s an obvious (and necessary) maturity, both in tone and in spirit.
Another comeback for the ages, Yellowcard ended its four-year hiatus with a triumphant return in the form of When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes. Possessing both the mature songwriting found on 2007’s Paper Walls and the youthful immediacy of the group’s 2003 classic Ocean Avenue, Yellowcard’s latest release is a perfect storm of the band’s abilities. Vocalist Ryan Key has never sounded better, whether he’s belting out anthems like “Sing for Me” and “Hang You Up”, or singing instant summer staples such as “With You Around”. Meanwhile, Sean Mackin’s work on violin and LP’s drumming are simply beautiful. If When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes is a sign of things to come, Yellowcard fans have a lot to look forward to.
1The Wonder Years
If last year’s peppy breakout The Upsides was the Wonder Years’ call to look on the bright side, then Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing is a sobering reminder that sometimes things aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. A whirlwind ride through the 12 months of lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s life leading up to the recording of the album, Suburbia thrives on its painful honesty as well as its artistic integrity. Just listen to the bite in Campbell’s voice when he sings “I’m not a self-help book, I’m just a fucked up kid” on “Local Man Ruins Everything”. Gritty and sometimes bleak, but always entertaining and passionate, Suburbia has put the fire back in a genre that was slowly becoming stale and forgettable, and serves as the new benchmark for pop-punk.