Modern Short Stories
Well before I began referencing and hyping up the triple threat that is the New Jersey Pop Punk Revival Tour (Bright & Early, I Call Fives, Washington Square Park), there was Punchline. Formed in 1998, the Pennsylvanian four-piece has always looked for excuses to have good old-fashioned pop punk fun. Even during their Fueled By Ramen years the band never gave in to the glossy trends defining most of the label’s biggest successes (Fallout Boy, Panic! At The Disco), instead content playing the same simple melodies that first landed Punchline, and most late 90’s pop punk, on the map.
Put otherwise, Punchline exists on its own terms – motivated by their love for music rather than climbing the charts. And since parting ways with Fueled By Ramen and launching their Modern Short Stories label in 2008, they’ve been playing to their own strengths even more so. This is a band that knows how to survive the crowded elevator squeeze that is today’s shameless race to the top. Armed with skillfully crafted hooks, and a sense of deserved confidence, Punchline bucks trends and forges its own path.
And their latest offering, Delightfully Pleased, is no different. In fact, for their sixth studio album the band makes their audience aware of their aspirations from square one. Steve Soboslai’s opening words should serve as comfort to those fed up with the likes of All Time Low diluting today’s pop punk genealogy: “you won’t find songs of hopelessness on this record, you won’t find songs that make you feel lost, just press play and your problems melt away.” And despite lines like “I’ve seen friends become successful and become friends no more,” they can always frame potential downers with optimistic, grudge-free, follow-ups, as per the extension “but one thing is for sure, I’m feeling good right now.” And that’s Delightfully Pleased in a nutshell, fun at heart and consciously uplifting.
Speaking of which, they draw much of that power and sincerity of their roots. The album is filled with all sorts of listenable gems drawing inspiration from many influential pop punkers’ pre-commercial eras. The bubblegum power-pop and toe tapping hooks of “The Reinventor” should take listeners back to the glory days of fun loving pop punkers Bowling For Soup, while “Seventy” invites comparison with various elements of Goldfinger and Blink 182. And of course Soboslai’s high pitched, enunciated delivery ensures that the whole ensemble’s appeal to long time fans of modern legacy acts like New Found Glory or The Starting Line.
Although there’s certainly no filler, some tracks can come across a little less profound. Specifically, without knowledge of the “Lost” (TV Show) connection in “Roller Coaster Smoke,” the track’s direction and purpose comes across rather vague. Granted, with most tracks brimming with originality this is a small gripe.
But while usually erring on the side of safety, Punchline also has fun breaching new territory. For instance, the lightly peppered synth pop song “Whatever I Want, Whenever I Want” juxtaposes bubbly radio beats with a hopeful, down to earth message sure to catch the ears of those trumpeting personal integrity. “I’m gonna be the biggest rock star that you’ve probably never heard of” sings Soboslai, enthusiastic to share his strengths with an appreciative niche. “I’ve got a brilliant plan and dreams so big they won’t fit in my head” he continues – and sometimes those dreams manifest themselves in very unique ways. The most unique of which can be found in “In The Mouth,” for which the band momentarily takes up the guise of choir-based rock opera legends Queen for a stage-like performance that, surprisingly, ends on one of the album’s simplest notes.
In “Keystoned,” a track detailing Punchline’s proud Pennsylvanian pedigree, the band brims with pride over their ordinary hometown state. While some bands might be eager at the prospect of shedding their small town roots, Punchine revels in the comfort of a “home you can always come back to,” but not without poking fun at Pennsylvania’s quaint track record. For example, they cheekily point out that “Pittsburg has more bridges that any other city… not counting Venice,” hinting at a second rate status. But even these snarky moments brim with enough love and playful affection to force listeners into thinking fondly of their own roots.
And that’s what’s so fun about the quartet, they’re always in such a bright, appreciative mood. When all is said and done, without being overly fancy, Delightfully Pleased serves as a good reminder to the infectious power of light-hearted, well-natured fun.