In general, you might think of pop-punk as a young person’s music — fast-paced, high-energy, lots of snotty songs about high-school loves lost and found. But have you seen that When We Were Young Festival poster? Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, the Offspring; it goes on.
All these guys — and it’s mostly guys, yes — are pushing 50 and beyond.
What used to be anthems of rebellion and disaffection are quickly moving into the realm of classic rock, songs to get nostalgic by when you take those studded cuffs out of the drawer and find that old bottle of eyeliner.
So the new record from the pop-punk vets Borderlines (frontmen Andrew Rice and Matthew Anderson were in the Leftovers before Kurt Baker skedaddled to Spain in 2012 or so) is necessarily a bit more nuanced and a bit more polished than the raw and sensitive testosterone that once marked the genre, but it’s also more sincere and pointed than some of the goofier records the Leftovers put together.
But it’s still very much a pop-punk record. With largely Anderson vocals mixed right to the front and well-enunciated, backed by pointed “oooh-oooh” Rice pops, and layered over the tight rhythm section of Matt Grassi on bass and Mike Sajecki on drums, the brand-new “Keep Pretending” hits a lot the classic notes, 12 tracks that don’t quite make it to 30 minutes.
Only the 1:34-long “F.B.T.” doesn’t have a full guitar solo, but even that tune makes sure to pepper in plenty of licks in transitions and between lyrical bursts. And that may be the best track, too, calling to mind the Gaslight Anthem with two-stroke rock that profiles a down-on-her-luck single mom with “just enough food to feed their four heads.”
It’s a class-conscious record from the jump, really, as the opening “Innocence Thrives” (released as a single last year) counts off in classic punk and then paints a fairly dour picture: “There’s too much laughter after these last killings/ The children are rapidly losing their feelings.” It’s clear we pop-punkers are the adults now. When the next song blooms into “The Greatest Resignation” — where Rice takes a turn on lead vocals and has to “remind myself to kick in the door” and “life still goes by” — it’s clear, in fact, that we might even be on the cusp of a mid-life crisis.
But that’s okay! The great thing about operating in a genre is that you can leave behind the pressure of inventing something new and instead play around inside the genre’s four walls. In “Pump Me Up,” the gateway to the album’s second half, Borderlines come together for an instrumental break that extends and jams, adds in a clapping percussion, and offers potential for live improvisation. What was that? Did Anderson just ask me to treat him like a whore?
With “Too Easy,” they explore some of the ’60s pop roots that anchor punk while exploring that transition so many musicians go through when the body can’t quite take the lifestyle anymore: “stopped drinking and shaved your beard.” And is that a bass solo? The dynamics here, getting quiet before the second exploding chorus, laying vocals over just the rhythm section in the finish, are the best on the album.
Ultimately, it would be weird if the band didn’t engage in some self-reflection, some nostalgic exploration of who they were and where they’re going. The closing triptych of songs does that nicely. In “Twenty Four,” they reflect on changing motivations and what it feels like to settle with “bah-da-da” backing vocals: “You wanted the world/ I just wanted you.” “Parrott” (yes, spelled that way) opens drum-heavy and offers up a nice metaphor for moving on: “My garage used to be full of shit/ Funny things I didn’t know what to do with/ So I threw them away.”
And finally there is “Ratwheel,” from which the album’s title is drawn. With all of that said and done, there is a look ahead. A managing of expectations. As it is future-looking, it is also the most chaotic, the song that most feels like that true-punk ethos of always being right on the edge, one bad beat from completely falling apart. Where will you find these guys, in the end? “Deep in a dive bar/ Buying rounds.”
As aspirations go, it seems as good as any other.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
Borderlines play Sun Tiki, in Portland, with GOING2HELL and Hell Beach, on July 22.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified a second vocalist on the song “The Greatest Resignation.”
2 Weeks, 5 Songs
Trawl, “Omega Rock Six (Intergalactic S.H.A.R.K. Invasion)” | The new EP from heavy rockers Trawl is, frankly, ridiculous. Which is great. Crafted around this track, the songs here are silly, fun and crafted for the purpose of banging one’s head and moshing with one’s friends. Here, alien shark monsters invade via classic metal riffage and lead singer Sean Matthews leans into it with gusto — “You better run, or become meat.”
For a self-recorded record, too, the lines are very clean and the “funkiness” they’re going for in the basslines come through with good clarity. Is the full rap-metal of “High Tide(s)” for everyone? Maybe not, but there are certainly plenty of ’90s kids who will feel a jolt of recognition for a time largely gone by.
Maine Inside Out Artists featuring M.V.P, “MAMA HELP” | Part of Maine Inside Out’s first compilation album, it’s hard not to be affected by this minute-long spoken-word piece in the style of Eminem, or any of the 15 tracks, really, which vary widely in quality and approach, but all offer perspectives from those who have been incarcerated or experienced the impact of incarceration in Maine.
Ada Bonnevie, “At a Loss” | Part of a new two-track release, here Bonnevie quietly explores the realization that she is not quite as robust as she once thought.
Libbytown, “Little Box of Pins” | Joe Brien (Kopterz, Troubles) continues to explore possibilities with wife Jane, with a heartfelt piece designed to appeal to an older, more traditional crowd, via fingerstyle guitar and sincere vocals.
Upper Narrows, “Tinker’s Darn” | Oh, shit, Tyler Jackson’s back (Foam Castles, Golden Rules the Thumb) with a new project, Upper Narrows, that promises a full-length album in October on Repeating Cloud. This first taste is a bit of light indie-pop, like someone gave the old Ponys a bunch of synthesizers.