In 2015, the California pop-punk group, The Story So Far (TSSF), embodied all of the genre’s best nuances. Fresh off the release of their third and self-titled album, live shows were legendary for their violence and dirty guitar riffs, facilitated by addictive hooks and indignant bridges. Vocalist Parker Cannon was the hero of bitter white boys across the country.
But a lot has changed in three years when the basic tenets of pop-punk – be angry and play guitars – seemed so simple and so secure. Since then, Warped Tour has shriveled quietly to a halt. Numerous outfits once seen as definitive of the movement have all but disintegrated as the community as a whole has become more outspoken about addiction and sexual violence. Lodged firmly within a genre proving increasingly overwrought, TSSF have a lot to prove about their place in pop-punk’s legacy and future in the genre with their latest album, “Proper Dose.”
The titular first track on the album begins in a way consistent with TSSF’s previous releases, but the ghost of similarity evaporates in a crash of cymbals before you can say “derivative.” The song, at just under two and a half minutes, promises all of the melancholy of the band’s third full-length. The second track, “Keep This Up,” brings the high-tempo anger so characteristic of TSSF. Meanwhile, “Out of It,” the third track on the album and lead single, returns to the hooks that first made TSSF fun, while also discussing the repercussions of Cannon’s chronic substance abuse.
Addicted to opioids and anger, Cannon spent the past three years stewing. His more aggressive actions of the past, like drop-kicking a concert attendee from the stage, become clearer within the narrative of this album.
This is a jarring transition to “Take Me As You Please,” which on initial listen seems to fill the role of the obligatory acoustic song on a pop-punk album. However, departures from TSSF’s historic jabs at acoustic work (moody, slow, uneven production) are successful here. They seem to take cues from ex-punk contemporaries Turnover, keeping the song in a “synthy” upbeat key that is both surprising and fun.
Finally, Parker Cannon seems to have found some peace within himself. Gone are declarations that his former girlfriends need to sleep around less because they’re “someone’s daughter” and anguished admissions that he needs to learn “how to live with unintended consequences.”
Cannon seems to have grown up and left his anger behind him. Begging an unknown lover, “It’s not like we can’t talk to each other / It’s all good, it’s all love, now it’s over,” Cannon’s focus on forgiveness feels like a turning point not only for the band, but for himself.
“Upside Down” is much more melancholy, and for good reason. It’s reflective of Cannon’s disillusionment with being a musician and chasing the best years of his life.
“Now it’s wild to remember I was in love with you once,” he sings to the job he claims he no longer wants. “Carry baggage I can’t put down / every show, every night, every town.”
This maturity has an overall positive effect on the album, with “Let It Go” feeling like the “pillowiest” headbanger to ever hit the punk community. “If I Fall” and “Need to Know” make some attempt at recalling TSSF’s hardcore roots, but hardly at the expense of Canon’s newfound worldview. “Growing On You,” meanwhile, has some of the most genuine sentiment that TSSF seems capable of.
Ending track “Light Year” is one of the most well-rounded on the album. Here, Cannon reflects upon his musical journey: “How did I get here? / Feels like a light-year / I should have no fear / Yet my hands are slick.”
At just thirty-three minutes, “Proper Dose” is sparse. It also doesn’t feel like it’s reaching for anything more to say. TSSF is done with performative anger, done with a sound that no longer does them justice. This is a pivotal moment in the progress of one of pop-punk’s most successful outfits of the decade. While there is of course progress to be made, this is a positive step forward.
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