All - Mass Nerder
Underoath, Hawthorne Heights, Taking Back Sunday, Finch, etc. These bands are controversial from a genre standpoint because elitists, experts, and n00bs alike cannot give a definitive answer to whether these bands belong in post-hardcore or pop punk (when in reality they are really some grotesque conjoined siamese twin of the two). An interesting element of this ongoing debate is that many fans of these bands are unwilling to believe that these bands could be pop punk because a) they scream and b) pop punk is "totally gay." To answer a), I'd say that vocals are not the only element that define a genre and more attention needs to be paid to the sound as a whole. To answer b), I'd have to say ngkjhfgkffkfkhj. As far as I'm concerned Underoath should be privileged to be placed in a category with amazing bands like No Use for a Name, Bodyjar, Alkaline Trio, etc. but for some reason, pop punk has a bad rap with so many people because of the shenanigans and tomfoolery of faux-punk pop bands like Good Charlotte and Relient K. Great pop punk has been forgotten to everybody except kids who can still recite from memory the soundtracks of the first few Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. And where did all of this great pop punk come from? The Descendents. Well, I mean The Ramones and The Buzzcocks were pop punk too, but the melodic brand that influenced nearly every Fat Wreck style band came from The Descendents. And, if you know your punk history: Milo went to college. This event left The Descendents with no singer, but an opportunity for a new beginning as the band All. All released many CDs, some focusing on an Eddie (of Iron Maiden fame)-like character, named Allroy, and some, the most crucial, Problematic
and Mass Nerder
, were just collections of amazing pop punk songs. Mass Nerder
very specifically, feels like their most historical album to me.
Before delving into this album in detail I want to touch on All's general formula. Much like The Descendents, All is a band that writes catchy songs on varying topics (mostly love songs, but also social/inter-personal and goofy songs (see "She Broke My Dick")) that are a step above run of the mill punk in both song structure and harmony. The lyrics and instrumentals are rather simple (excluding the bass) but all of the harmonic movement and hooks thrown throughout the songs show a craft in songwriting that is unexpected in such a genre. I find their harmonic movement to be oddly reminiscent of the way showtunes songs are written. Because songs for musicals use text painting and madrigalisms, a lot of unusual and tonally unexpected chord movements arise like having a bVII chord in a major key for example. It's a very catchy way to change the flavor of a turn around or a hook to make the songs more memorable or emotive to a listener. All uses the same technique by having modal mixture in a pop punk soundscape, which is really devastatingly catchy. In terms of the actual instruments and vocals, I am not shocked or amazed but I am happy. The guitar and drums are typical fare, and the bass is exceptional producing impressive fills and fun and solid off-root position harmonizations. The vocals too deserve some attention and I feel on this album specifically they have their greatest strength for a few reasons. Firstly, the vocals are more mature and rougher than other pop punk vocals. There is no whine or high-pitched shriek to these vocals, which immediately render them more mature and sophisticated. Secondly, the lyrical content fits the bill as well, complementing the vocals. The lyrics, while simple and silly at times, have a very wistful quality. Few pop punk bands have the ability to connote sadness without sounding saccharine. When All emotes sadness, they aren't melodramatic or over the top, but sound more like 30-something punks who have had and lost a lot of love in their time yet still have a youthful optimism about the whole thing, which is wonderful and once again, unexpected.
As for the album as a singular entity, and not just as another album in the All catalogue, Mass Nerder
has a lot to offer. As I said before this album feels specifically more mature than other All (and Descendents) albums for its wistfulness and particularly strong songwriting. Songs like "Until I Say So," "Refrain," and "Vida Blue" resonate with this particular brand of love-song writing that is beautiful. No other band can blend their inherent tone of instrument and voice with these kind of simple yet poignant lyrics and solid, catchy song writing. Other songs ("I'll Get There") too catch hold of the wistfulness but aren't as great because their subject matter isn't so overtly about foolishly lost love. There are also some silly and fun songs that really liven up the album like "Silly Me," "Honey Peeps" (which features a fun sung inclusion of a love interest's phone number "Angeline / 264-5783"), and "Think the World." Lastly, there are a few goofy hardcore (but really just fast and slightly dissonant pop punk) track under 1:00 like "Greedy" and "Life on the Road" that aren't too great but are good for varying the pace and tone of the album. Overall there is a solid variety of songs all playing off of the typical All sound. This album just feels to have the best balance as well as the best individual songs. Compared to other pop punk too, this album isn't eclipsed by many others. Only the tightness and speed of More Betterness
by No Use for a Name, the variety and beauty of Let's Talk About Feelings
by Lagwagon, and the Chicago-style of The Lawrence Arms' Apathy and Exhaustion
and Alkaline Trio's Good Mourning
can beat this one out. Even, then All is the most separate and unique of all of the pop punk bands. Nobody has really touched or imitated their style whereas there are plenty of Alkaline Trio and No Use for a Name shadows. Give pop punk a chance with this album. If you have any heart at all I'm sure you'll be pleased. At the least it's better than They're Only Chasing Safety
. My heart give this a 5/5 but my brain gives it a 4/5. Enjoy.
Recommended Tracks: Until i Say So, Refrain, Vida Blue, Honey Peeps