Review Summary: "This is what it feels like to bloom."
"This shit is so sick", murmurs Ben Cato over the beginning of "It Is Real", and folks, he's not wrong. From a band who seemed condemned to flicker - though admittedly bright as hell - and then fade into the annals of pop-punk history as just another one with potential they never quite achieved, comes a warm surprise in Mother Nature
. It's a clear drink of water, a dip in a stream from a dozen tributaries that unites to take you exactly where you need to go. In other words, the kind of bold, refreshing change of pace that can only come from a band hitting an unexpected peak.
is a rare album which constantly balances on a pin head, making flow and clarity its ethos. For example, "Bring Me Back to Life" is a flashing neon sign that this is not the same Dangerous Summer who underwhelmed with last year's comeback, pairing a fantastic AJ chorus with a dancing synth which accomplishes in four minutes what Angels & Airwaves have been missing for 10 years. There's barely time for breath before a drum snap announces "Way Down", where AJ Perdomo's distinctive near-scream is refined and fully in control, light years from the scratchy vocalist who cut across Golden Record
with vitriol. Surefire fan pleasers "Virginia" and "Violent Red", cleaner reinvention of the Golden Record
sound and straight throwback to War Paint
respectively, are perfectly placed as bookends to the boldest tracks any pop-punk band's dropped in years.
You'll probably be reading about "Starting Over / Slow Down" a fair bit, so might as well get used to it: this piano-tinged ballad builds elegantly to two ebullient, duelling hooks which could easily carry an entire song, only to then switch gears into an uptempo synth rock banger. It's the centrepiece to end all centrepieces, and proof positive of the influence a producer – in this case Samuel Pura, simply suggesting the band combine two demos which weren't working in isolation, creating one of their best songs in the process – has on transforming a band's landscape. "Where Were You When the Sky Opened Up", sleeper highlight of the entire album, pairs addictive folky melodies that Ace Enders might have written for I Can Make A Mess... with U2-sized stadium rock ambition. Rounding out this trilogy is "It Is Real", a straight pop tune built on chintsy Casio keyboard beat not miles away from Bad Books' "Forest Whitaker", reflecting on the music industry and label pressures. Play those songs for a fan who'd checked out after Reach for the Sun
and they'd hardly recognise the band; play them in context of the album and everything makes sense, clicked into place by a clarity of vision and dedication to crafting transitions.
Artistic reinventions are all and well, but I imagine most of us gravitated to The Dangerous Summer's orbit due to AJ Perdomo. With his winning combination of half-yelled cleans and honest, pragmatic lyrics which cut through the melodrama and posturing of this genre, Perdomo showed insane promise from the start, and late in Mother Nature
is where that promise arrives in its fullest. The title track, lyrically outstripping anything in the last five years of pop-punk not written by Dan Campbell, functions almost as a non-religious prayer/mantra, frankly and with delicacy examining the process of returning to home, and the changeable nature of that landscape. It culminates in a moment of Perdomo alone, dwarfed by the power of nature and yet given over to it, which should give even the stone-hearted reason to pause and take the music in.
"In the infinite forest, in the bottomless light
through the rain of the morning, through the cracks in the sky
you let it all enfold you, you let it all swallow you
you surrender the pain left behind those eyes... you have to let that change you."
I have an image in my head of The Dangerous Summer as careful craftsmen, elder statesmen of a scene you're not supposed to age or evolve within. No longer working off one blueprint for a whole album, but reinventing the formula for every song, every minute made with care and attention. It's there in the slight quickening of the vocal melody in the bridge of "Where Were You..." which subtly kicks the song into another gear. It's there in songs which use a chorus only twice and then crest to a different climax instead, making the most of Perdomo's ability to write both a mammoth hook and an emotional wringer of a bridge, going against the pop-punk formula in small but appreciable ways. It's there in the voicemail in "Prologue", not gratuitous but essential to the entire album. In a little over a minute, this track establishes the need for rebuilding lost connections, as succinctly summed up in the chorus "can you let me know you're holding on？", as well as themes of renewal as linked to Perdomo's daughter Luna, "wash[ing...] hands of who we were when we were younger". It's most of all there in the purifying, cauterising cleanse of Perdomo's screams through autotune at the end of "Better Light", fracturing this album's clear, consistent vision into a million pieces and bringing them back together.
On the self-titled album it felt like AJ was constricted, writing about his inability to leave places and situations, and the band and production was restricted with him. Mother Nature
is really just the construction of steadier, taller buildings on that foundation; the album's polish not masking lesser songwriting or a concession to radio play, but a deliberate transformation from the sore throats and headaches of their younger days. When "Better Living" concludes and the strains of autotune wash into "Consequence of Living", where the summer-hazy guitar is straight out of Reach for the Sun
, the brilliance and ambition of this album's journey becomes clear. Any old band can evolve – a respectable thing to do, sure, but not unique. The Dangerous Summer do something quite different on Mother Nature
. They go so far to "bury my old heart there", only to come back to where they started from, and neither band nor listener are unchanged by the journey. Or, you know, I can just let the man say it himself: "This is what it feels like to bloom."