Review: Hit The Lights, ‘Summer Bones’
Pop punk will always hold a special place in my heart; it’s what got me interested in learning to play guitar and ultimately led me to come to appreciate true angst in the form of catchy lyrics in choruses, distorted power chords, and (in lieu of better phrase) how to just not give a fuck while you’re singing along. My first experience of pop punk, as most twenty-somethings can relate, was with blink-182. And while I will not be commenting on the feud that still continues on between Mark, Tom, and Travis, I will say that upon my almost accidental listen of “All the Small Things” back in 1999, it was damn-near impossible for me to turn back. My life became pop punk, in all of it’s late 90′s and early 00′s glory, simple as that. [To put it in perspective, at least the blink-drama hasn’t been going on as long as the Taking Back Sunday // Brand New escapades].
To no surprise to anyone, pop punk is even bigger now and there are literally a ton of sub-genres with differentiating vocal ranges, intensity of guitars, and just some that have stuck with the same old tried-and-true ‘pop punk.’ It’s catchy, appealing to a broad audience, and really fun to listen and sing along to. Of these bands, there are probably about four or five true stand-outs for me in the genre – something rather hard to come by when the cliche is just so powerfully cemented and rooted in our musical preferences. Yes, pop punk music is literally written in way that we cannot resist it; it’s so influentially wired into our subconscious to love that catchy hook. Anyways, neurological tangent aside, these bands include: blink-182 (obviously), Fall Out Boy, Four Year Strong, The Story So Far, and Hit the Lights. Each of these innovators took to a niche in the pop punk market, and brought along many followers and a renewed fan base. While FYS and TSSF developed into a more aggressive form, blink continued with their self-proclaimed “crappy punk rock” act, FOB took to a more refined and bigger stage by incorporating a new direction. But of that list, Hit the Lights is the most intriguing one for me. Not only have they constantly put out amazing records during their career as a band, but they’ve done so while maintaining this slightly lower status than one would assume, given the level of talent they possess.
In a lot of ways this review is going to seem like a trip down memory lane (hopefully it does for you as well), and I can point specifically to when I was first exposed to Hit the Lights waaaay back in middle school. It was 2007, a year after ‘This Is a Stick Up’ was released, and one of my friends sent me message on AIM (the good old days wow) about this a song called “Talk Us Down” from a new band. Me and my comic sans filled bio and artwork took to finding the song on Myspace – luckily the band had a page! The excitement was palpable, most likely because this was the very first instance I was introduced to new music by a friend and I was more than ecstatic to start posting the lyrics as my away message; obviously to show how “xcoolx” I was back at 12-years old. From then on I was hooked, as Nick Campbell’s soaring vocals served as a catalyst to the backing guitar-centered punk music that sounded so damn catchy. ‘Skip School, Start Fights’ was my summer-after middle school album, and pretty much defined my attitude going into high school. But come two years later, all of this excitement was rearing it’s ugly head – I was disinterested in pop punk music. I guess you could call this my very first foray into true emo music (I’m talking like Sunny Day Real Estate emo, not MCR emo here), but for some reason Hit the Lights just didn’t do it for me anymore. Maybe it was the underwhelming single of ‘Invicta’ or just me growing up finally, but pop punk began to grow stale. Perhaps that explains my very depressing self during sophomore year of high school… hmm.
When it finally came back into a new popularity, oh boy did it explode. Thank you The Story So Far, for bringing my trust back to pop punk. And then Four Year Strong was back?! And blink finally released their 6th LP. And then Set Your Goals absolutely killed it on ‘This Will Be the Death of Us.’ Honestly I’m getting excited just listing these off in succession. With the genre on the rise I was patiently awaiting the day Hit the Lights would come back and absolutely ignite my burning spark into a beautiful display of raw emotions and angst. That day came not two weeks ago. Finally. And here is where my review of ‘Summer Bones’ officially begins, ya know, after all of the backstory and nostalgia.
I immediately knew HTL was back once I listened to the lead single “Fucked Up Kids.” It blows your fucking speakers out, that’s how powerful the intro is. AND that’s just 3 seconds in. The one-two punch of the single with “The Real” is clearly a product of Nick and company asking themselves: how do we try to impress new and old fans within about 5 minutes of music? I mean, it’s pretty obvious that these songs are the most angsty, punchy, edgy, and exciting to listen to on the album. But that doesn’t even consider the eight remaining songs to make their fourth record a masterpiece of pop punk ‘revival’ (if I can even use the term here, after all, people were obsessed with it when emo came back into prominence, so I feel like pop punk deserves the same treatment). Among these tracks you find Hit the Lights at their absolute best, notably in “Keep Your Head,” a one-minute-and-twenty-nine-second brute of a song which shifts gears around and really shows a new intensity about the band. “Summer Bones” serves as the median piece and starts of more melodic and slow with an acoustic guitar, until it too shifts into fourth gear and explodes into what can only be described as an anthemic title track. “Old Friend” closes of the album by recalling stories shared and time flying by, a true homage to Hit the Light’s earlier days of being a band on Triple Crown. It speaks volumes about an artist who can simultaneously rely on the roots of their past and keep a level head about the future. If there are any issues to be had about the record, it is it’s brevity. Certain songs could stand to be developed a bit more to really explore what’s behind the scaffolding of the songwriting process, like “Life on the Bottom” and “Blasphemy, Myself, and I” (a contender for best song name of the year, recall that last year that award went to non-other than You Blew It’s “Award of the Year Award”).
One facet I picked up about the album, more than any other material Hit the Lights have put out, is the introspective nature of the lyrics and how this is played in two ways with the accompanying music: (a) pure juxtaposition of singing more drowned-out angst with blaring guitars and a haste in the drum patterns or (b) erratic and in-your-face expressions of angst on both fronts working as compliments. It naturally comes as a byproduct of maturity, found wholly in the band. Sure, they’re still gonna sing about being fucked up pop punk kids, but will also settle down and discuss more serious topics like those in “Summer Bones.” Together, you have a wholesome conglomerate of Hit the Lights at their absolute best.
If you want to relive your yesteryears while also embracing the new scene pop punk sits inside of today, do yourself a favor and listen to this album. Hit the Lights have carefully written and constructed a record that feels as if it fits into the 2015 landscape, while being blissfully aware that it is not a product just any band could make. ‘Summer Bones’ is such a well-produced, powerful album full of renewed teenage angst that I’m convinced 2015 will be the year for pop punk. Stand up for a second and remember that we’re getting new Four Year Strong AND The Story So Far this year. If you’re still not as excited as I am, remember that both of those releases AND this one are being put out by Pure Noise Records. I said in an earlier review that they’re the new “pop punk label” didn’t I? Okay, you can sit back down now, cause it’s time to get on the internet and immediately buy, download, support, etc. this fucking album. Do it. Hit the Lights is back. 5/5
RIYL: The Story So Far, Four Year Strong, Set Your Goals
Definitely check out: Fucked Up Kids, The Real, No Filter
Shameless plug of lesser-known bands who sound similar: Forever Came Calling, Light Years
Hit the Lights is a 5-piece pop punk band from Lima, OH coming fresh off a short hiatus (they were relatively quiet following Invicta) in a huge way. Be prepared for Summer Bones to ignite the coming spring/summer 2015. You can check them out on their website, facebook, twitter, Pure Noise, and on the road in the UK with Four Year Strong, and with Cartel in the US starting April 9th.