Knuckle Puck maintain their grip on modern pop punk with a new, unrelentingly upbeat sound and a collection of surefire classics.
Illinois pop punk stalwarts Knuckle Puck return in grand fashion with their third studio album, 20/20. In what has been a year of evolution and growth for pop punk, Knuckle Puck’s latest offering sees the band deliver their take on a fresh, upbeat and happy-go-lucky demeanour in a time that we perhaps needed it most.
‘20/20’ opens the album perfectly, introducing the listener to this new softer style of Knuckle Puck. Compared to 2013’s ‘Everything Must Go’ which opened the EP The Weight That You Buried, this opener ditches those growls and shouts that once kicked off Knuckle Puck tunes. ‘20/20’ in contrast plants a soft kiss on the forehead before taking your hand and running with you into a field of freshly bloomed flowers, displaying colours you didn’t even know existed.
2020 is the year in which bigger pop punk bands have softened their edges and presented a more mainstream sound. Outliers like Boston Manor have maintained that edgier, punk vibe, but Knuckle Puck have succumbed to modern pop punk’s growing up, and have done so brilliantly. Where the guttural screams of “Where’s your respect?!” that open 2013’s ‘No Good’ might have been what was synonymous with Knuckle Puck for so long, 20/20 delivers a more comfortable, refined, pop punk experience. Knuckle Puck have not entirely forgotten their roots, however, as ‘Tune You Out’ still has some tantalizing hints of that old-school sound, especially in its closing moments.
‘Sidechain’ might just be a sleeper hit. Not released as one of the singles, it sits on the tracklist with little fanfare, but delivers the catchiest chorus on the album. The opening verse has this luscious melodic-whispering that perfectly builds to the first chorus, and Joe Taylor’s split-syllabic delivery of “sidechain” is so much fun to mime along with.
‘RSVP’ has such a gripping backing riff, and it’s damn near impossible not to bop your head in time with pre-chorus drums. This track just screams ‘mosh pit classic’ and will no doubt be one of the highest-energy songs live, whenever we can return to venues.
By the time you’ve reached the end of ‘What Took You So Long’ you will likely have added the majority of the preceding songs to a playlist titled something like “Pop Punk Summer”, or “Sunny Bops”, which for a group like Knuckle Puck is something quite surprising. This sunnier disposition is the biggest takeaway from this new album. With a softer, bouncier sound, accompanying some all-around happier lyricism and vocal delivery, Knuckle Puck have presented themselves in a new light, rather than that same old ‘sad in mum’s basement’ dinge that worked so well for them before.
Sadly, the album seems to reach its apex with ‘What Took You So Long.’ While the following four tracks are certainly not bad, they just lack that joyous diversity. ‘Into The Blue’ is the best of the final tracks.“Swan dive from 20,000 feet” echoes through its choruses and through my hallways, as I cannot resist screaming along every time I hear it. ‘Green Eyes (Polarized)’ is the serviceable ballad that all modern pop punk albums seem to require, and while it’s by no means a crucial listen, it’s still a somewhat pretty song. ‘True North’ and ‘Miles Away’, the closing tracks, unfortunately bleed into one another a bit. Their similarity is slightly jarring, and leaves the end of the album feeling a little deflated. A shame, when you consider how wonderfully it opens, and how consistently exciting it is through the first seven tracks.
A lacklustre tail-end aside, 20/20 is an exhilarating half an hour of pop punk fun, and boasts incredible new tracks to add to Knuckle Puck’s already stellar repertoire. ‘RSVP’, ‘Earthquake’ and ‘What Took You So Long’ are guaranteed classics, and unexpected hits like ‘Sidechain’ are sure to be fan favourites. Knuckle Puck are certainly not the first band to display a rejuvenated, matured sound this year, but with 20/20 they go into the decade enthusiastically maintaining their position as one of the pillars of modern pop punk.
20/20 is available now through Rise Records. Check out the video for ‘Breathe (feat. Derek Sanders)’ below!