Saturday, 11 February 2012

Review: Tonight Alive - What Are You So Scared Of?

 This album's been available to listen to online for a few months now, but it feels right to actually give it a good listen because it's about to be released worldwide and there's a very high chance that as that happens, this band will become massive. Anyway, a recurring ocurrance has struck me again. A female fronted pop punk band has surfaced and I have looked at pictures of them and read interviews and come to the conclusion that I am probably going to despise them. Then I've made the choice to check them out only to discover that they are in fact pretty good then get with the immense hype surrounding them. It happened with VersaEmerge, it happened with We Are the In Crowd and it's happened again with Tonight Alive, whose general appearance I grew to despise me to a much greater extent with constant photo's of them doing fun stuff with sugary smiles all over their faces. Too much brightness! Let me feel doom and gloom in peace! So when the first picture of them that I saw featured the band members pushing frontwoman Jenna McDougall around in a shopping trolley (something which is particularly annoying for myself which relates back to my more tragic youthful days of 2008, when I was being 'obliviously bullied' which there's really no point in dwelling on.) I decided that their music would actually be suffocating-ly upbeat and sugary. But, of course, listening to some of their stuff, it turned out to work well and effectively serve as pop punk perfection. Now where's that massive hype? I have to get behind it.

 Of course, let's not deny their debut album What Are You So Scared Of? of what I'd like to be critical of. It's incredibly sugary and overly sweet in lots of places as tracks like Sure As Hell and Reason to Sing being filled entirely with a forcefully positive attitude and bubblegum poppy hooks. But, it's not really annoying, it doesn't make your skin crawl or anything. It's just a really catchy array of pop punk with adrenaline packed in chunky riffs from rhythm guitarist Jake Hardy and a growling bassline from Cam Adler, which both combine to really give the album an extra heaviness, something which is much more prominent in the angrier Fake It, a song which actually features playing in a style that resembles the kind of breakdowns that metalcore music has taught us to love. Basically, the band is perfect Warped Tour material. Worry not, they're confirmed to tour North America as part of this years proceedings.
 But, as basically just explained, this infectiously hooky, light/heavy exchanged pop punk sound isn't just used in a super-happy-fun way. The album has lots of more serene and melancholic moments from the opening Breaking and Entering as McDougall cries out "I'm burning up, I'm burning up/ I don't know the girl in the mirror now" Songs like this, Listening and the heartbreaking Amelia, a song about lost friendship and coming to terms with missing people reveal less desire to create bubbly pop punk, instead punk music with a little more emotional heaviness and an influence from emo pop peers like Weezer or Jimmy Eat World and more intricate details are found in  the groups style of playing can be identified as grand sweeping soundscapes are created at various moments, revealing an extra grandeur to what the group do. And in this emo pop manner, lots of tracks take a more bittersweet attitude to the lyrical messages and playing style, such as Thank You & Goodnight which features an impressive appearance from Blink-182's Mark Hoppus performing guest vocals. Although this doesn't really add any kind of extra depth to the song in any way, it's quite cool to here that they managed to get one of the two voices of Blink-182 to perform with them. That's pop punk royalty right there! This band clearly isn't just playing around.
 So, there are a lot of cool moments on What Are You So Scared Of? but it's not pure listening gold. Heavily played pop punk can only sound so fresh for so long and it's long before we get to the end of the album before listeners will start to find little that's keeping the songs dynamic and the tragically inevitable Paramore comparison comes to mind, a devastating blow for all female fronted pop punk bands.
 Overall, however, this is an extremely promising and talented effort from Tonight Alive. The album is filled with lots of moments that makes their undying mission to make fun and catchiness a mission accomplished, they manage to create an extra heaviness and extra emo influence in their pop punk, which is, as mentioned perfect for the Warped Tour generation who like hooks and heaviness (a scene band?) and manage to have an actual extra beauty lyrically and musically which defies the ways of their more mainstream peers. So, once again we learn that a book cannot be judged by a cover and just because a band likes to present themselves as annoying kids, it doesn't mean that they sound like it.

 Tonight Alive's What Are You So Scared Of will be available worldwide on 14th February via Fearless Records. The band are currently on tour of the UK with Young Guns and Polar.

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