Review: Somos, ‘First Day Back’
Written by Zac Djamoos Edited by Caitlin Kohn
It isn’t easy for a band to stick out making pop-punk music. The constraints for the genre are so narrow that to effectively challenge it (while staying firmly within it) is a nearly-impossible task. It is a task that Somos take on with their new record ‘First Day Back,’ and a task that they succeed in.
The band’s sophomore album takes the sonic palette that ‘Temple of Plenty’ built, and then expands upon it. While their debut drew a few complaints about a lack of diversity, I don’t think they’ll need to worry about that here, as they’ve created one of the more unique pop-punk albums in memory. “Slow Walk to the Graveyard Shift” opens the album with an echoey, ambient drone, there’s hints of ‘90s emo like Braid (intentional?) or Penfold all over closer “Lifted From the Current,” and a Death Cab-like indie rock vibe rears its head on “Bitter Medicine.” Staticky keyboards wash over the vocals of “You Won’t Stay” before it opens up a bit to become an electronic song with more in common with an arrange track than a Transit song – it’s by far the most unique song the band’s ever written, not to mention one of their best, and I’d be interested in hearing more like this from them. Even the more straightforward pop-punk songs feel different – it’s almost similar to what I imagine the result would be if Minus the Bear went the pop-punk route.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the combination of “Violent Decline” and “Thorn in the Side.” “Decline” has a mathy little intro that immediately brings a band like Minus the Bear to mind, and it serves as a good first track proper to the album. It’s a nice slice of all the album’s strengths, a mid-tempo, slightly more atmospheric take on pop-punk. It’s also got a great hook, but it’s surpassed in that department by “Thorn.” This song keeps up the vibe that “Decline” established, throwing some dream-pop influence into the mix during its chorus of “It should feel good/it does not.” While it does get a bit repetitive, it’s easy to look past that for a song as charming and infectious as this one.
“Days Here Are Long” is even dreamier, and dips its toes into the electronic stream “You Won’t Stay” dives into (there’s a fun tie between these songs too). With all this, I guess the point that I’m making is that ‘First Day Back’ creates a very specific, spacious atmosphere. It sounds and feels open – even consuming the amount of pop-punk music I do (an embarrassing amount), this one still feels unique within the genre for this reason. Part of that credit I assume must go to producer Jay Maas, who does a great job at helping the band capture that sound.
The songwriting itself however, deserves just as much praise. Whether they’re tackling a more mellow electronic sound, catchy pop-punk, or combining the two, it’s all great. Admittedly, at times, the lyrics tend to get repetitive, as in “Thorn,” and the songs are all pretty short, with the longest running less than three and a half full minutes. Together, these almost make some of the songs feel like interludes. Granted, they feel like very good interludes, but makes the album at times seem shorter than it is, which, at 27 minutes, is already pretty short. Even if this throws off the flow of the album a bit, it still doesn’t shake that dreamy vibe.
That vibe is what keeps me coming back. That’s what makes ‘First Day Back’ such a leap forward from ‘Temple of Plenty,’ which was a great pop-punk album, especially for a debut. ‘First Day Back’ is a great album. It’s proof that Somos isn’t afraid to experiment. It’s proof that when they experiment, the results are really, really good.
It’s also proof that Somos can create an album of the year contender.