The career path of a band is often accompanied by a jagged slope of ups and downs and very seldom, an exponential rise to stardom. However, the term ‘rise to stardom’ wouldn’t exist without there being notable exceptions to the rule (Exhibit A-Z: The Beatles). One such current band on this track is The Story So Far, who are debatably the best active pop punk band. Did I just try and set up a feeble comparison of the most famous band in the history of I don’t know.. forever, to a seemingly lowly pop punk band from Walnut Creek, CA? Yes, and I’ll tell you why. Substance and genre aside, if I were to tell you 20 years ago we’d be seeing teenagers pine for band members (ahem: frontmen) as much, if not more, as the horde of Beatle-maniacs awaiting the arrival of the core four in 1964, you’d tell me I was insane. And that’s not only because I had trouble with s’s at the tender age of 2.
If there’s one thing Parker Cannon isn’t, it’s dumb. The guy can write one hell of a tune, sing at increasingly high registers, brilliantly compare his feelings to colors (Under Soil and Dirt: grey, Self-titled: indigo/dark blue), and can turn more than a few heads upon first glance. It’s not quite Beatlemania; more like frontman-ia (if I may). It’s pretty common for people to flock to a cute guy/girl who can play guitar and sing well, but for some reason the scene we exist in considers the person behind the mic to be the sex symbol, the selling point. It’s not that they’re selling themselves out, but the issue comes from fans who expect them to, unfairly and disgustingly. Remember the incidents about a year-and-a-half ago with Britty Drake of Pity Sex and Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw? Remember how a guy actually crowd-surfed up to the stage and stole a kiss from Brianna? And how a different guy tried to do the same thing to Britty, but missed? It doesn’t stop there, it happened to Parker as well. The girl lingered and wouldn’t move unless he kissed her. The incident ended with Parker ultimately and rightfully shoving her back into the crowd. If our perceptions of band members involve making them out to be sex symbols for our exclusive enjoyment doesn’t scream at you that something is wrong with the scene, then I don’t know what else to tell you.
2015 sees The Story So Far at the top of their game. With their most recent (and massive) tours of the US and Europe, the release of ‘Self-titled’ couldn’t be timed any better. I just wonder when they have time to write these amazing songs. It also sees the band at a crucial point in their careers, as they haven’t peaked quite yet but you can sense that the band is well on their way to exploring some other genres besides the pop punk they’ve settled nicely into. Parker has his hardcore side-project Snarl and Kevin has Elder Brother with Dan from Daybreaker, another Pure Noise alum. Some people in the scene have warned of an imminent hiatus approaching, and I almost have to agree with them because pop punk is a dangerous game to play, especially with a band like The Story So Far. But at the same time I don’t want to believe it, simply because their songs are so genuine and harsh and real. Call them cliche as long as you want, but the allure of TSSF is how they emit the very true feelings of grey, dark blue, red, and every other color on the spectrum encapsulated in the body of a 20-something-year-old in their angsty songs about love lost and growing up. And we all can relate to that.
I wish I had more than words to express the maturity of this album and how well The Story So Far conveys emotion in such a simplistic genre by nature. They maneuver through the empty space between genres and come out for the better, showcased perfect on the stunning and surprising “Phantom.” I was literally shocked when I first heard this song; I had to double check that I was listening to Parker because he wasn’t shouting the entire time. His singing, combined with the very haunting instrumentals below in the mix, creates a harrowing effect in the song that I cannot shake off. It’s also the first time I was genuinely scared while listening to TSSF, and that’s a beautiful thing because usually I feel pumped up or angsty; here they’ve produced a more emotional outcry in the songwriting and performance, which is excellent news for naysayers of the alleged hiatus. By blurring genre lines, Parker and co are slowly sparking flares for the evolution of their already unique and solid sound.
That being said, it isn’t surprising at all that the rest of the album, laden with angst, more angst, and a side of angst, is also stellar. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: even if The Story So Far stick to their top-notch formula for every single song, the result will always be better than any other pop punk band out there. It’s both a testament to name-recognition (simply saying Parker Cannon should do it) and their ability to weave together an amazing set of lyrics, one of the tightest lead and rhythm sections, and blister-and-sweat-inducing drum lines. “Heavy Gloom” immediately brought me back to the ‘Under Soil and Dirt’ days, albeit with a seemingly darker influence they’ve picked up since ‘What You Don’t See’. The lyrics are perfect as usual, but most notable is when the instrumentation can make haste and pull back when necessary, see: “Was I too harsh in my lament to you that I fell so out of touch? Back and forth because I can’t understand how you control all my lust and form the words on my tongue” as the best example. It’s this darkness which I’m intrigued by; was it always there? Did Parker find a better outlet than simply cursing out his estranged? Or is the band pursuing a darker, more emotional genre style? My bet is a combination of the latter two.
With the release of “Nerve” and “Solo”, the singles off of the record, brought the media’s latest Parker/TSSF-related fascination of the analogy of colors as feelings. Literally everyone has talked about it, but the part that strikes me as odd is how the band has done this since ‘While You Were Sleeping.’ Yes, Parker has been pretty keen on the whole indigo/dark blue thing for awhile, but it’s nothing new as far as a lyrical style. In particular, my favorite moments of this are when it’s not immediately noticeable, like in Scowl and Stalemate (the latter of which has one of the best choruses we’ve heard out of TSSF): “Someday soon I hope to see that you’re feeling indigo way down in your soul and It’s not the same as you feel, it used to be a light teal. But that shade was never real for you and I.” These moments are like striking diamonds in the rough, as it took some careful listening to find.
In addition to colors, The Story So Far’s writing loves to create call-backs to previous records or even previous songs. This meta-nature in the songs is a nice touch, as you can reflect on past experiences you’ve had from listening and absorbing the lyrics and propel forward as you gain new ones. The best of which these moments happens with the duality of “Smile” and “How You Are”, of which I appreciate even more because they are placed as track one of the respective sides of the record (which I’m due to receive soon!!). The former starts off the album after some well-placed feedback and guitar track: “I know it’s been a while, but I will not fake this stupid smile,” while the latter continues the theme in a lesser, more subdued fashion: “I keep my distance now, forcing my jaw to smile.” Another of these crucial moments in the record is on “Scowl”; which not only furthers the smile motif (“I wear a scowl so that they can always see”), but references “Empty Space” from their previous record: “Change up your face, attempt to erase. But you’ll never feel the void in my space.”
I have so much more to say about this record, but I will leave the above to suffice as a humble attempt to review such a brooding, dark, and melancholy effort that is ‘Self-titled’. So, are The Story So Far the next Beatles? Absolutely not, but my point of bringing up Beatlemania is that fans will always pine for their favorite member of their favorite band. And thus, my analogy proves to true, just not the light I perceived it in. Are The Story So Far the best band in pop punk right now? Yes. Does their immense rise to stardom indicate any trouble brewing at home or on the road? No. Has it gotten to their heads? Not from what I see. Just how many tattoos can Parker, Will, Kelen, Kevin, and Ryan get in between tours? You’ll just have to see them to find out. The Story So Far isn’t going to end anytime soon, as long as Parker and the Cannons are willing to (almost effortlessly) write nearly flawless songs every couple years or so and sell out tours while they’re at it. Listen to this album, and be glad you did. 5/5