Review Summary: Shudder sees Bayside once again defy all logic.
There are so many tag lines that could apply to Shudder, but most of them sound dismissive or derogatory. If you loved The Walking Wounded, you'll adore Shudder. Shudder is a brilliant addition to a consistent catalogue. It won't surprise many that Shudder sounds like a Bayside album.
And so on. Bayside's fifth studio record doesn't fix what isn't broken, but what's far more astounding is that the machine shows absolutely no signs of rusting or slowing down after so long. Their melancholy, intelligent, often dark pop-punk sound is in full working order, and so is their songwriting. But see, that still sounds like they're just churning out album after album of the same material, selling records just because they can and making little to no impact in the process. And while they're hardly pop-punk's most celebrated outfit (who would want to be, anyway?), to suggest songwriting like that found on Shudder is lazy or uninspired would be almost criminal. And despite being slightly more of a grower than their self-titled or the much-loved The Walking Wounded, it's debatably their best yet.
Lead vocalist Anthony Raneri has so much personality that he's capable of covering any number of emotional and lyrical mindsets with excellence, never mind comfort. I Can't Go On, as its title might suggest, is a downbeat and fairly depressing track with arguably the record's most straightforward musicianship, which sees Raneri at his melancholic best; two minutes previous, though, he was delivering self-aware bites of observation with punch and a spring in his step ('there's so much life in these bricks, there's so much buildings can say'
). Everything's coated in a hefty layer of cynicism (there are hints that even I Can't Go On has its tongue in its cheek at points) but it's not the sort that needs weeks of analysis to penetrate - Raneri's words and vocal performance are both instantly endearing. His conversational range is never betrayed by the incredible hook melodies he puts his stamp on, and he's frequently sublime; as The Ghost Of St. Valentine's anthemic chorus arrives, he yells, 'There is no love, just appetite, and its consequences keep you up at night,
and Shudder is in full swing.
Behind him are stomping guitars and drums at points reminiscent of Alkaline Trio or Brand New. Bayside usually tend towards the heavier side of the pop-punk sound; Rochambo (Rock, Paper, Scissors) in particular, has pretty furious guitars and a weighty pre-chorus riff. But it would be inaccurate to describe Shudder as a record which strays very far from its pop-punk roots, even when Rochambo's superb solo sets up its final chorus. Pop songwriting is what holds this record together - varied tempos, subtle changes in approach and hook-packed guitar lines and vocal melodies everywhere. The only song which really strays from Shudder's typical aesthetic is closer Moceanu - likely to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair, it's almost a gypsy-punk song with partly spelled-out lyrics atop an acoustic guitar, complete with a gang-vocal wordless chant towards its close. It's a truly bizarre and unexpected way to end the album, but works surprisingly well.
I expect that Bayside's sixth studio album will veer sharply towards synth-pop territory, possibly introducing auto-tuned female vocals and incorporating guest appearances from popular hip-hop artists. Seriously, though, it makes you wonder whether a band that are now becoming pop-punk veterans have something of a dramatic direction change up their sleeve. Their refusal to shift from their core sound would be a disastrous decision if that sound weren't so tightly executed and addictive, but, again, that sounds like Bayside are managing to keep their heads above water, when in r-e-a-l-i-t-y they're still swimming at the same pace they started at. Every hook is infectious, every lyric intelligent and self-aware, every riff fitting, and they're showing absolutely no sign of running out of ideas. Sure, Shudder sounds exactly
like a Bayside album, but the point is that such a comparison implies it being brilliant. And it is.