Pure Noise Records / Photo by Lupe Bustos
Five years is a long time in the world of pop-punk. In that time the Motion City Soundtrack have split up, and subsequently reunited; Good Charlotte, Blink 182 and Sum 41 have released two albums apiece, and Tom Delonge has abandoned his pop-punk roots, in order to hunt aliens.
Five years is significant, as this is how long it’s taken for Four Year Strong to release new music. Since their previous, self-titled effort, to say the genre’s landscape has changed in that time, would be something of an understatement. Pop-punk has seen styles and sub-genres come and go in that time; the easycore that the band made their name with ebbed away, to be replaced with the ‘sadboi’ emo-esque pop-punk favoured by the Wonder Years. This was in turn, replaced by the grungy version of pop-punk peddled by the likes of Citizen and Basement. Both sounds a million miles away from classic Four Year Strong, despite sharing a genre.
However, this clearly wasn’t of any concern to FYS when writing ‘Brain Pain’, as rather than chasing down whatever the current trend is, the band have stuck to what they know, and that is combining the hooks of pop-punk, with the breakdowns of metalcore, to make another instalment of their own brand of easycore.
While sonically, the band hasn’t broken new ground, be under no illusion: this is the band’s best album to date. While the band have retained a youthful joy with their familiar sound, the lyrics very much focus on getting older, band/homelife balance and how relationships change with age. It’s a mature album, very much hidden in plain view.
Album opener ‘It’s cool’ starts with wistful, softly sung lyrics about
how age is catching up with the band, before descending into a heavy and
moshable slab of easycore, with pounding down-tuned guitars
From there, the sound doesn’t vary too much, but when you’ve found a winning formula, there’s absolutely no need to deviate.
Singles ‘Get Out of My Head’, ‘Brain Pain’, and ‘Talking Myself in Circles’ are bombastic slices of heavy pop-punk, simultaneously what fans have come to expect from the band, and completely fresh, with a new introversion and lyrics jaded with the realities of growing up.
Following in a similar vein are ‘seventeen’ the excellent ‘mouth full of dirt’. The former has a creepy, groovy riff, which indicates that nostalgia can’t be trusted, despite how rose-tinted the past can seem. The latter is an absolutely exhilarating piece of pop-punk. The audio equivalent of hitting the high-spots on a halfpipe. The juxtaposition between the upbeat music and worn lyrics is as clever, as it is effective.
There is one instance where Four Year Strong deviate from the album’s tried and tested formula. ‘Be Good When I’m Gone’, is an acoustic ode to family life, and missing all that goes with it when touring. It’s a surprisingly tender moment for a band who don’t usually make material of this nature. It gives the album something different, and gives the listener a slight reprieve from the relentless easycore, which preceded it.
While sonically, there might not be anything too surprising here, it is refreshing for a band to stick with their sound, and to do so brilliantly, when the scene has gone in a totally different direction. This is almost certainly Four Year Strong’s greatest achievement, and if their career continues along these lines, then there can be few complaints from anyone.