It’s early June, which means that almanacs and gloomy Ohio weather be damned, I’m convinced it’s summer. Summer, for me, is always going to mean listening to more pop-punk: what music better soundtracks hot, sun-filled days than a sub-genre so heavy on sugar and vitamin D that its albums might as well be packaged with popsicles and tanning lotion?
Candy Hearts’ new record All The Ways You Let Me Down is a venerable one stop shop for pop punk that’ll shine bright all year. It’s the rare album where every song sounds like it could be a single with its own identity, but the whole thing still feels like a cohesive whole. Pop punk veteran Chad Gilbert (of New Found Glory), who produced the band’s 2012 EP The Best Ways to Disappear, is back in the producer’s chair, but he’s eased off on that EP’s Big Rock sheen in favor for something looser and punchier. The production’s a mix of TBWTD‘s sturdiness and powerhouse drum sounds with the crunchy guitar of Candy Hearts’ debut album Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy, finding a happy medium that lends power to the album’s bigger moments without losing any of the melody.
Which is a plus, because All The Ways You Let Me Down has the biggest moments that Candy Hearts has committed to tape. Now that they’re a few years into their career, it isn’t hard to see Candy Hearts evolving in the same way that indie power-pop stars Best Coast have: the core sound remains largely unchanged, but the arrangements and lyrics have gotten subtly but unarguably more intricate. No where else would the band have tried the playful guitar lines in “The Dream’s Not Dead”, those beat shifts in the freewheeling “Fool’s Gold”, or the maddeningly catchy intro to “Michigan”, but those touches are what give the album its character.
Then, of course, there’s “Something Missing” and “Playing With Fire”, which are a departure from anything the band’s done before. “Something Missing” is straight up late 90s power pop in the vein of Third Eye Blind that isn’t quite a ballad, but has a dramatic edge that’s new to the band’s slower numbers. Two songs later, “Playing With Fire” jumps headfirst into power ballad territory, with squalling guitars and a huge, heartbreaking chorus. It’s this pair of songs that put the album’s lyrical themes of troubled relationships, self-doubt, and just not being enough.
Admittedly, those are common topics in pop punk, but Candy Hearts pull it off with more charm than most. Lead singer Mariel Loveland hasn’t lost her fondness for quirky similes–past songs have compared lovers to the string of red balloons or the danger of picking pennies up tails side down, and opener “I Miss You” compares love to a tarnished ring–but the delivery’s straightforward and you agree with the metaphor because hey, you’ve been there. There’s sadness and triumph all over ATWYLMD like you’d find on a Wonder Years or Menzingers record, but none of the existential hand-wringing or brainy rhetoric cluttering the lyrics or the hooks. The simple delivery is what makes singalongs like closer “Top of Our Lungs” such a joy.
But “Top of Our Lungs” is far from alone on that front. Candy Hearts blast their way through the album’s first seven songs, only pausing for a quick fix at “Coffee With My Friends”. The one-two-three punch of “The One To Get Me Out”, the title track, and “Michigan” might constitute some of the band’s outright best work: “The One To Get Me Out” jumps between bouncing verses and a muscular chorus, “All The Ways You Let Me Down” is the catchiest slew of relationship problems you might hear, and it’s impossible to stay still during “Michigan”. Drummer Matthew Ferraro remains Candy Hearts’ secret weapon, able to switch between hard-hitting punk rhythms and more playful pop beats on a dime, and still sound confident with both.
If there was one word that differentiates All The Ways You Let Me Down from Candy Hearts’ previous output, it would be “confidence”. The band knows what they’re doing, and the songs–joyful or downcast–reflect that. The album’s brilliantly paced from start to end, offering summery pleasures on repeated listens. Everything you need to know about it is there on the cover: bright colors and sweet delivery, but an emotional message that holds your attention, and keeps you coming back for more. Simply put, it’s great. All The Ways You Let Me Down shines so brightly, even its blemishes are hard to see.
All The Ways You Let Me Down is out June 10th on Violently Happy Records, a Bride 9 records imprint. It is available to stream on Alternative Press here, and available for preorder here and on iTunes.