Review Summary: Handguns are good, but why choose one when there are AK-47s available?
For all of the near decade long rhetoric espousing that pop-punk is dead, there sure is a lot of it still out there. Very much alive and continuing to kick and scratch as rebelliously as ever, exponents of the genre remain healthy in numbers... So much so, that listeners are spoiled for choice when deciding exactly who they will listen to and pay to see perform live. Positioning themselves somewhere near the middle of both the poppier and heavier extremes of the genre, hard-working Pennsylvanian outfit Handguns showed great promise with a handful of introductory EP and split releases, which suggested that they were more than ready to take the next step on their debut LP ‘Angst’. Unfortunately, as solid as the album is, ‘Angst’ fails to deliver much that will separate the quartet from the pack, let alone bullet them towards pop-punk’s big guns.
As with the majority of pop-punk releases, ‘Angst’ is undoubtedly a catchy and energetic affair – if not quite as immediate as one would hope. Opener ‘Porch Light’ kicks things off on a positive note; its propulsive drumming and effective questioning hook teaming up to make for a fan-friendly tune. Its other key attribute is a “The only wrong decision is to never make one at all” sing-along, the type of which is too few and far between on this record. As the aforementioned refrain suggests, the lyrics here are solid and relatable, but ultimately rather generic, with the predominant theme being that of overcoming adversity. Only ‘The War at Home’ and closer ‘Where I Belong’ – the latter of which details lead vocalist Taylor Eby’s departure and subsequent return to the band - go one step further; their personal touches adding not only sincerity, but genuine interest.
Unfortunately for the returnee, it is actually Eby who is most at fault for Angst’s lack of distinction. To put it bluntly, his shouty yelp too often falls on the wrong side of the whiney vs passionate equation, eventually grating upon listeners. The mixing and production of the record also pays the band no favors, placing Eby so much to the fore that it causes diversity issues, with far too many tracks ultimately bleeding together to result in redundancy. It comes as no surprise then, that the initially acoustic led highlight ‘Fade Away’ utilizes dual vocalists; the band regrettably losing second guitarist and backing vocalist Kevin Cale on the eve of recording ‘Angst’.
While admittedly a little lazy, it is difficult not to compare the brief career trajectories of Handguns and tour-mates (as well as Split EP cohorts) Forever Came Calling. The latter began in arguably shaky fashion and built up to a strong debut LP release just two months ago, while Handguns have followed the almost exact opposite path. There is simply nothing here which eclipses the infectious catchiness of EP tracks ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘Best Excuse’, nor demands to be shouted along to like ‘Anywhere But Home’. With far too many songs fading into the background, it is extremely telling that the track which most stands out is undoubtedly going to be Angst’s most divisive... Complete with cheesy voice-overs, the contagious immaturity of rapid-fire tune ‘Early Retirement’ recalls former heavyweights Blink 182 and The Offspring. Until the quartet can find their own way to distinguish themselves, however, pop-punk devotees are likely to choose one of the genre’s AK-47s rather than some merely “good” Handguns.
Recommended Tracks: Fade Away, Porch Light & Early Retirement.