Known for their steady 90’s pop-punk output, Pennsylvania four-piece Punchline has been a staple on the genre for quite some time now. When they’re not touring and writing, the band is supporting their predominantly pop-punk record label, Modern Short Stories. If you haven’t noticed already, there’s a bit of a trend developing here. Punchline and pop-punk are traditionally synonymous. That’s why the band’s latest full length, Thrilled, is such a surprise.
As recent as 2010’s Delightfully Pleased, Punchline has been relatively in line with their legacy sound. But a departure to a far more “pop” than “punk” personae has taken place at least as early as 2013’s Politefully Dead, culminating in the near electropop personality of the present. This isn’t meant as a criticism, just a cautionary warning to those who may be returning after having taken a break from the Punchline camp for a few years.
Thrilled has much more in common with contemporary radio indie-pop than vintage New Found Glory. Look no further than the opener and title track for the smooth, rhythmic balance defining Punchline’s present direction. Bubbly chords, jubilant synth, electronic handclaps and flourishes straight from the soundboard make “Thrilled” a definite statement of intent. For better or worse, the band holds their ground, producing a slick sound that extends well beyond their traditional home niche. Others like “Now I See” and “Tell Me How You Sleep” follow suit, first and foremost opting for beautiful harmonies and catchy choruses.
Tracks that deviate primarily do so with slight tweaks to their tempo. For instance, “Telephone Pole” and “Simulation” scale back the splendor in favour of indie-esque chimes with a wispy, almost Paulson vibe. As a rule, Thrilled feels like it’s always straddling the line between mainstream shortcut and teasing something deeper beneath the surface. Take the calm and casual call of “Oh Sierra,” in which the band explores minimalist execution, or “Answer Me,” which tosses around some genuinely emotive piano notes.
Overall, Thrilled is the type of departure that slowly grows on you – but only once you get over the initial shell shock. While the album starts off with plenty of radio ready singles, the true treasures occupy the disc’s latter half. Punchline has lived through many trends over the years, but their longevity tends to pull them through. Thrilled’s departure throws into question what future changes lie on the horizon, but in the meantime, open minded fans should survive the transition while the band’s evolving direction attracts new blood. At the end of the day, Punchline is an old band trying new tricks, and it works, mostly.