[20 June 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When you think of pop punk, your thoughts may instinctively turn towards Blink-182, and if your thoughts turn towards Blink-182, they may also turn towards enemas and an overtly sexually suggestive album title. Philadelphia’s Reward is a little different. Check that. A lot different. Even though the oldest member of the group clocks in at 20 years old, and the band is comprised of high school and college aged members, there’s a lot more going on with this group than meets the eye. They’re surprisingly mature, for one. Take the song “Bob”, for instance. According to vocalist Rob Blackwell, the song is actually about his cousin who has Down syndrome. Says Blackwell by way of the press release, “I have never once seen him upset or unhappy for more than maybe three seconds at a time. He wakes up and is simply excited to live and be alive. He thoroughly enjoys every moment and that is amazing and inspiring to me. So in this song I wanted to honor his mind and express my mourning for his window of opportunity, but to juxtapose it with how much I love and admire him for cherishing every day and every moment.” Now, that’s mature. And intelligent. Which raises Reward well and far beyond a lot of their pop punk peers.
But the Painted Desperation EP also has muscle to match its brains. Opener “Seep” actually starts out with muted production, before quickly raging into something of great power. It also shifts into a quiet passage, however, and shows a certain tenderness to this band. Basically, this set is five tracks that are stunning. Reward doesn’t really reinvent the wheel, but they don’t have to. Thematically and musically, this is a young group that is at the top of not only its game, but the game of their peers. This is a scorching 23 minute statement of intent, of one showing that they’ve arrived and are kicking down doors and taking names. I just can’t get over the material and how much wisdom these young lads have in hand. Listening to Reward, pardon the pun, is a richly rewarding experience, and these guys really deserve all the success they can muster. The Painted Desperation EP is one that shows a group at the top of their command, and really puts other bands of the same cloth (Blink-182, I’m looking at you) to shame. If you want the intelligence and lyricism of a Neil Peart coupled with the power and full on rocking abandon of pop punk, I suggest you look no further. Reward is the real deal, and their debut EP is a must hear.