Review Summary: Their dreams may “still feel so damn far away”, but We Still Dream are close to realizing them.
Most will agree that in order for pop-punk to be successful, it has to be catchy. More debatable, however, is how instantly infectious it is required to be, since the two traits don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Hailing from the musical hotbed that is Jacksonville-Florida, under-rated quintet We Still Dream most definitely play a catchy brand of pop-punk, but it’s arguable lack of immediacy has resulted in the talented outfit remaining a relatively little known commodity in an over-crowded scene. And while their second LP ‘Something to Smile About’ is an admirable step forward, it isn’t likely to turn them into a household name any time soon.
It probably doesn’t help that the band seem to adhere to the theory of opening tracks bridging releases, with the opening pair here not being as forced as ‘Life’s An Avalanche...’ from predecessor ‘Chapters’, but feeling borderline redundant. One thing they do establish is the more proficient use of dual, backing and gang vocals, with second track ‘Things You Do’ containing the telling lyric “I wanna be young and reckless. I wanna be so infectious”. Things immediately improve from there, however, with songs such as ‘Back To Then’, ‘Ups and Downs’ and hooky lead single ‘Sanity (Growing Up)’ overcoming predictable nostalgic themes by adding satisfying – if not necessarily innovative – twists. Meanwhile, buoyed by an impressive rhythm section, ‘Closer Look’ and ‘Tendencies’ sees We Still Dream extremely comfortable – and arguably more suited – to performing short, sharp and heavy tunes.
The most significant evolution the Floridians make is on the album’s second half, where the band integrate a more pronounced alt-rock aesthetic. It’s not perfectly executed, but is a brave and ambitious move which ultimately pays dividends by not only adding diversity, but providing a point of differentiation to ward against (present and future) stagnation. The growth is best shown on ‘So Much Worse’, an uplifting tune which not only draws the best and most passionate vocal performance from Dustin Monk, but also creates a light and shade dynamic which seamlessly emphasizes both the alternative and pop-punk character of the track. It, along with ‘Turnaround’ and likely live favorite ‘Better Than This’ are real growers, while ‘Dissipate’ fittingly closes proceedings with the best all-round musical performance, as well as the most versatile vocal (both lead and backing) display.
As previously stated, ‘Something to Smile About’ is unlikely to trigger a rapid ascension to stardom for We Still Dream… It isn’t immediately striking or technically innovative enough for that to occur. However, it is a very consistent album which not only reaffirms this band’s base talent, but also suggests a willingness to mature without sacrificing what got them to the big dance in the first place. “It just makes it hard when every one of my dreams somehow still feels so damn far away” sings Monk on ‘Back To Then’. Well, it may feel that way guys, but distinguishing yourselves from the pop-punk pack may well be closer than you think!
Recommended Tracks: So Much Worse, Dissipate, Back To Then & Tendencies.