Review Summary: a thesis on mid-2010s pop punk in the mid-2020s // this album is pretty good
The year is 2023. You have stumbled across a Knuckle Puck review on Sputnikmusic. If you choose to continue reading, you are about to consume an in-depth analysis of the state of whiny sadboi pop punk. In 2023. Proceed with caution.
Alright, cool, now that all self-respecting individuals have left the room (jk, kinda), let’s dive into Knuckle Puck, and, while we’re at it, their position in the landscape of mid-2010s pop punk (in the mid-2020s). Most strikingly, it feels like Knuckle Puck have been perpetual victims of their circumstances and, ultimately, themselves. On the one hand, the band managed to carve out a niche for themselves with the release of the excellent While I Stay Secluded
EP and subsequent Copacetic
LP in 2014 and 2015 respectively: thoughtful, expansive and somewhat awkwardly “intellectual” pop punk (read: big words in lyrics). On the other hand, their close ties to contemporaries like Seaway, Neck Deep and State Champs forced them into a corner of the world’s most loved genre more focused on fun and energy rather than the pensive gloom Knuckle Puck excelled at. As such, formlessly generic cuts like “Stationary” would follow the genuinely forward-thinking textures of “True Contrite” on Copacetic
’s track listing, putting the band’s strengths and weaknesses on full display at all times.
This feeling that Knuckle Puck would never be able to fully commit to their excellence only strengthened with the subsequent Shapeshifter
; an album that, in spite of its palpable ambition, put forth subpar and unmemorable songs like “Twist” as well as gorgeously explosive SOTY-material a la “Wait”. In the meantime, however, the landscape of mainstream pop punk was quietly moving on - The Story So Far started exploring more spaced out, calm textures; Boston Manor dove headfirst into gloomy alt rock; hell, even Neck Deep scored two of their biggest hits with the relatively slow and pensive “In Bloom” and “Wish You Were Here”. It’s a collective shift that should have been a golden opportunity for Knuckle Puck to finally properly embrace their contemplative sensibilities. Unfortunately, 2020’s immaculately titled 20/20
did the exact opposite and became the band’s fun
album - approximately half a decade after all the fun was over. While still being a solid offering, things weren’t looking good…
…for Knuckle Puck and mainstream pop punk in general. Save for The Wonder Years, as the 2020s hit, most of the main players of their era either disappeared with or without notice, or decided to put out pop punk music not even pop punk fans could stomach. Where to next? Most of Knuckle Puck are in their 30s now, and I guess not every band can make an After the Party
, so we’re left with Losing What We Love
- their first full length in well over three years. In a way, it’s another disappointment by a band that should be so much better, while also embodying the most consistent thing they have put out in nine years (or: their most consistent album ever). For the first time ever, it’s hard to position a new Knuckle Puck album in the wider context of their scene - perhaps because that scene is fractured and fragmented beyond recognition. This might
just be a good thing: for the first time ever, it’s also hard to feel like the band have any circumstances to fall victim to. Instead, they’re merely falling victim to themselves.
As a whole, Losing What We Love
is the darkest Knuckle Puck have ever sounded, while still being a pop punk record through and through. There’s moments where this darkness bleeds into intensity and yields excellent results: “The Tower” is a massive cut, marrying simplistic yet effective riffs with a beautifully violent chorus. Similarly, “Act Accordingly” transforms standard pop punk rhythms into a seriously pissed off anthem, exploring textures left untouched since Shapeshifter
’s “Everyone Lies to Me”. However, this darkness isn’t restricted to the heavier moments. The production throughout Losing What We Love
is excellent, highlighting each instrument where necessary while allowing plenty of space for songs to unfold. “Groundhog Day”, one of the record’s strongest cuts, uses its entire back half to transform minimal lyrics and a mesmerising guitar solo into a unique and dynamic conclusion that complements the album’s atmosphere as much as it constructs one itself. Elsewhere, closer “Fool” commits to a mid-tempo rocker and pulls it off with conviction, allowing its contemplations to reflect all that came before. When such magnificent unfolding takes place, it’s hard to grasp why the band would ever record another generic pop punk track.
Yet, it seems Knuckle Puck are committed to their pop punk bangers (lowercase b). While Losing What We Love
does not contain the valleys of previous records, there are several (too many) songs that feel sort of pointless, like filler with the sole purpose of contrasting the better cuts and highlighting how damn good they are. This absolutely works on a song-to-song level, but hardly makes for an excellent album. While the appealing production and consistently decent
songwriting help construct a cohesive experience, moments like “You & I” and “Worlds Apart” are little more than forgettably okay
songs. Perhaps this is just who and what Knuckle Puck are. Perhaps they’re as big on the intricate beauty of the title track’s outro as they are on trite pop punk-isms from yesterdecade. Perhaps I won’t ever really understand that.
Above all, perhaps I want Knuckle Puck to be more than they are. They were a right-time-right-place-right-age band for me as Copacetic
’s accessibly pretentious leanings perfectly fit with my sixteen year-old self’s depression-riddled evenings. Perhaps I’m just desperate to prove the cynical “lol, pop punk” part of myself wrong - and maybe, just maybe, the excellent moments spread throughout Losing What We Love
can silence that little voice for a while. At the same time, while Knuckle Puck remain a tale of untapped potential, I remain hopeful that the next record will accomplish what the band seemingly set out to do all those years ago - even if the lyrical content of cuts like “Out of Touch” and “A New Beginning” don’t exactly hint at a (bright) future for them. For what it’s worth, I’m out of touch too. Any person willing to dedicate time to mid-2010s pop punk in the mid-2020s is, and that’s okay.