Pop punk is a genre I’ve never been able to get away from. Even after a ruthless music library purge shortly after my 13-year-old self committed to being a metalhead (to the exclusion of all other, “weaker, less intellectual styles of music”), I was never able to pull myself 100% out of that rabbit hole. I’m generally more open-minded these days these days, but that sense of guilt for indulging in the genre has remained to some extent. But I can’t help it; there’s just something about whiny, angsty, juvenile, three-chord, emotional, uplifting teen power anthems that perk me up and make me feel absolutely amazing in the right circumstances. I generally group pop punk bands into 3 very loose categories: nostalgic legends that shaped my early music-listening years such as blink-182, Green Day; guilty pleasures – bands that are too catchy for me to hate, All Time Low and New Found Glory being the prime examples; and the more “mature,” emo-tinged bands such as The Wonder Years and The Hotelier who once surprised me with how legitimately great they were, essentially rekindling my interest in the genre.
New Jersey’s Idle Wave is emo-tinged pop punk that’s more or less in the same vein as mid-era The Wonder Years, who they actually sound ridiculously like at times – unfortunately to their detriment. This is immediately apparent their recently released self-titled EP’s opening track (and lead single) ‘You Caught Me,’ starting off with gang-vocal “whoah-oh’s” sounding very much like The Wonder Years used to love circa The Upsides. The song continues to be a fairly middle-of-the-road pup punk jam, with pleasing, but not particularly ear-catching musical hooks. The lyrics are fairly typical pop punk fare, in this case about “guilt and false accusations.” It’s a serviceable track and it definitely has the introductory feel that generally defines a good record opener, but none of it really sticks in my head and the more I listen to it, the more annoyed by it I am by its somewhat lacklustre chorus – which isn’t a good sign. The following track ‘Calm” fares a little better in my opinion – the backing vocals during the chorus (“so looooong?”) are probably the catchiest part of the album – but still, overall it feels like something of a re-tread of the first track, but without the “whoah-oh’s.” The tempo’s, melodies and progressions don’t feel particularly varied throughout the EP; the last two tracks “Smoke (Bad Dreams)’ and ‘Heaven Knows’ feel basically the same as the first two.
Yeah, I don’t care for this much. It’s not bad per se, but it isn’t particularly interesting either. I feel like everything I’m not so keen about in Idle Wave is because of how similar they sound to The Wonder Years and how bad for them that comparison actually is. ‘The Greatest Generation’ is probably my favourite (fairly) recently released pop punk album, and everything Idle Wave presents here feels like a watered down version of the same thing. It’s less layered, less emotional, less catchy, less punk. It’s too mid-pace. Maybe it’s music that came very sincerely from the people who made it – and I’m not one to judge on that front – but it just doesn’t make feel very much.
So, on those arbitrary pop punk classifications I mentioned above – I want to mention that it’s probably more of a spectrum, going from the legitimately great bands on one end to the nostalgic classics somewhere in the middle to the guilty pleasures on the far side. Despite the negative connotations of terms like “guilty pleasures,” there aren’t really any value judgements inherent to any of them; there are Green Day albums I dig way more than Hotelier albums, really. Anyway, if I were to place Idle Wave, they’d be somewhere between The Wonder Years and New Found Glory, two bands I appreciate on almost wholly different levels. The Wonder Years I dig for their layered, legitimately well-crafted music as well as Soupy’s powerhouse singing, New Found Glory solely because their music is catchy as hell. In Idle Wave’s case, I feel like both sides of that negate the other – the album feels too “emo” to be all that catchy, but doesn’t commit enough to its musicality, lyrics or delivery to really hit me in the feels. It’s definitely not bad – (it’s production, courtesy of John Ferrara of Trophy Scars, is actually pretty great) and it works to a degree. But in the end, I feel very little listening to it.