Since the release of their essential debut album ‘Milo Goes to College’ (1982), Descendents’ bespectacled frontman Milo Aukerman has been torn between his two loves, punk rock and biochemistry research. But when he was made redundant a few years ago he became the rare person for whom music becomes their fallback option, leading to the band reforming and writing new material.
Some may question the relevancy of a group of fifty-somethings who are still tackling the same subjects they were writing about as teenagers. But in a world where floppy-haired youngsters still fumble through endless versions of ‘All of the Small Things’ in their parents’ garages, it feels necessary for these punk-pop progenitors to remind everyone who did it first and best. On ‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’ – their first album in twelve years and only their third release of new music in the last twenty – Descendents demonstrate that they are no nostalgia act, but are still capable of writing irresistibly catchy pop hooks.
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The album begins with ‘Feel This’, a bracing blast of melodic punk rock that sets the tone for the half-hour that follows. All four members are playing at the height of their abilities, with Aukerman in particular sounding better than ever. The album’s lyrics cover familiar territory without ever sounding tired. On ‘Without Love’ – the album’s longest track at three minutes and twenty seconds – they reaffirm their unrivalled ability to write thrashy, heart-on-sleeve love songs. Meanwhile, ‘No Fat Burger’ is an old school hardcore workout which acts as a middle-aged sequel to the teenage anthem ‘I Like Food’ from their 1981 ‘Fat’ EP, Aukerman lamenting the food he can no longer enjoy: “I like food but all the food that tastes good/ I can’t have that”. Album closer ‘Beyond the Music’ is a different type of love song, paying tribute to the band’s history and to the members’ shared purpose; “Here we are today/ Still look each other in the face/ Not expecting a single thing beyond the music”.
As is so often the case throughout the band’s music, the bass is key to the success of many of the songs on ‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’. This is most evident on standout track ‘Victim of Me’; bassist Karl Alvarez underpins guitarist Stephen Egerton’s simple chord progressions with a constantly moving counter-melody that drives the song. Other highlights include the surprisingly emo ‘Spineless and Scarlet Red’, featuring an impassioned performance by Aukerman and some compelling guitarwork by Egerton, and the enjoyably dorky ‘On Paper’, on which Aukerman boasts that “Statistically I’m far above the rest” despite looks that could “make an onion cry”.
While the bands they spawned have fallen prey to overseriousness (Green Day) or embarrassing juvenility (Blink 182), it is a relief and a pleasure to hear a Descendents album that delivers on everything you’d want from a pop-punk record in 2016. Here’s hoping that, with their singer’s new dedication to his music career, fans aren’t left waiting another twelve years for the follow-up.
‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’ is out July 29th on Epitaph Records.
This Descendents article was written by Joe Turner, a GIGsoup contributor