June 10, 2019
Released On April 15, 2014
Released By Fat Wreck Chords
I have long since come to terms with the idea that punk is dead. But like any powerful force of pop culture and social change relegated to the annals of history, I believe that the fact of its demise in no way diminishes its importance. We still throw around the term “punk” with a sort of unintentional whimsy when we refer to certain musical characteristics despite the fact that the artists in question are often little more than pop bands aiming to appeal to that certain ineffable specter of teenage emotional turbulence. If you can’t nail your listens and subsequent dollars with cross-fades through bedroom scenes and inexplicably rainy nights soaking white t-shirts and accelerating tears, maybe you can rage wildly with a swinging guitar, lips contorted into a sneer that barely distracts from your extreme neck tattoos. We’re (still) mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. The truth is, we never took it.
The original punk was just rock n’ roll and when rock n’ roll became palatable, the rebellion watered down, invited in and embraced, so we needed something more extreme. When your rebellion is warmly embraced, it’s time to go a level deeper. Punk was rock n roll reclaimed by people who would never be invited to play it. The ragged clothes, wild hair, leather jackets, and sloppy, unhinged guitar riffs played way too fast symbolized a rage that went deeper than the simple blues of minor heartbreak and the pedestrian safety of poetic songs about love. We’re further along the timeline now and this repeating pattern of finding new ways to piss off the pop music establishment has moved on. As we grow up, we’re eventually grooving along with songs which were once rebellious themselves, but are now simply nostalgic echoes of angst one can only vaguely recall. Mommy, I never really wanted to go out and kill tonight. Our rebellions of old have taken us to places which some celebrate and others — notably the old schoolers — decry as modern and therefore awful. They just don’t get it we cry, all the while forgetting that our parents didn’t either. And that’s exactly the point, isn’t it?
It’s been said that in many ways that underground hip hop is the new punk rock. In examining its origins of a class of people using instruments in ways they were never intended to make music that is completely new, completely groundbreaking, and brashly outspoken, it’s easy to see how that’s a valid argument. But while the death of punk is a symbolic acknowledgement that the time in which it emerged has long passed, its influence nevertheless remains and the spirit of that sound, I would argue, is maybe stronger than it ever was. I loved the Sex Pistols. I loved The Ramones, The Misfits, Minor Threat, Exploited, and The FU’s. I loved Lagwagon, Pennywise, Rancid and yes, even Green Day. But there is one record which came out of nowhere in 2014 that has dominated every one of my playlists in the years since. Like any self-respecting music fan who tracks their listening stats, it seems remarkable to me that Banner Pilot’s Souvenir has risen to the top of my personal charts. Why?
They’re not fowl or filthy or even all that angry. They’re not screaming or wailing or audibly willing you to trash things. The 4-piece from Minneapolis, Minnesota write songs about nostalgia and relationships and feelings. And while telling you that before you’ve heard it might raise some screaming emo alarm bells, let me tell you that what sets this album apart is Nick Johnson’s incredible vocal ability to sell his sincerity. Add to that some of the most soul-twistingly melancholy hooks I’ve ever heard and you’ve got a soundtrack for every moment you’ve ever regretted, lost or wish you could do over. Like any good punk album, it opens on a single guitar lick which clears a path for the relentless energy to come. It’s not long before the vocals are soaring and Johnson’s spotless rasp is recalling getting drunk on the rooftop in the springtime and wondering where you are. “Effigy” keeps the pace, this time with a standard chug-a chug-a rhythm guitar, and then burns the house down on a completely charged melodic hook. “Go ahead, we’ll burn it up in effigy!” Just about every song on the album is underlain by Nick Ganglehoff’s down-tuned bass which moans and gurgles along with the melody and occasionally comes up for air when the winding guitars give it some room.
You can’t examine this record without mentioning the spotless production. The mixing hits in all the right places. Guitar solos move over to the right speakers as though they were standing alone and during breakdown’s Johnson’s vocals are right up front peeling layers off your soul as he rises to the top of his vocal range to squeal out “I can walk with broken legs / I can crawl away off sinking ground / from the bottom of these dregs / to an empty shack outside of town / where I shed a weathered skin / and I leave an empty shell behind / with tomorrow closing in / I know now’s the time to take this moon-shot.” It’s somehow hopeful, triumphant and also moving. The album runs blistering fast all the way up to “Summer Ash” which opens up meandering through a bass and vocal duet before, as you might expect, descending into yet another punk anthem.
Maybe we no longer take seriously the punk symbols of the ’70s and ’80s, but the spirit of music which reflects our anxieties and lays them out in distorted guitar riffs, seriously sticky hooks, disrespectfully pungent basslines and anthems will likely always find ears among the sensitive, the angry, the heartbroken, the emotionally vulnerable, the disappointed, the hopeful, the happy, and those looking to be inspired to make things better — which is to say — all of us.
Modern pop punk tackling the forlorn romanticism of rock and roll’s iconic prime.
This is the first time I’ve ever heard Banner Pilot, and I contemplated something immediately after completing Souvenir for the second time: I wonder how often their songwriting gets overlooked? Shit, it took me two listens to really pick up on it, I think, because it’s so easy to get lost in the upbeat energy of the tracks. I’d encourage everyone to give this album a few listens to fully digest the vivid storytelling at play here. On the opener “Modern Shakes,” we are treated to maybe the most beautiful hangover ever: “When I woke up, I saw the sun had passed me by / It was rainfall in a red wine colored sky.” Then on “Effigy,” we get all the little details of an awkward morning in someone else’s bed: “I watched the sun cut through your bedroom / and make its way across the floor.” To some, maybe that line doesn’t seem so profound, but to me it’s just so damn descriptive of a mundane moment that we’ve all been through that’s rarely, if ever, addressed in song. The quality is constant throughout, cresting on the eventually triumphant “Shoreline.” I’m not sure to call this punk, punk-pop or give it some other lame tag. It just plain rocks.
As previously stated here or elsewhere, I was raised on The Beatles, with my mom literally waking me up in my crib with a 45 of “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In the growing field of exposomics, this might be considered an environmental factor that affected my DNA epigenetically, leading to at least one definitive result: I like guitars. So, when listening to something I’m almost guaranteed to dislike, which includes anything calling itself “punk rock” and recorded after, say, 1980, I just listen to the guitars. Banner Pilot has good guitars, which means it sounds better to me when I’m only half listening to it. Like the other day, when I was playing Souvenir in my office and someone dropped by for an impromptu meeting. We were talking for a few minutes before I realized I forgot to pause the music. After I did, it occurred to me that on an ambient level, the grinding, chugging, occasionally soaring twin guitars of Nick Johnson and Corey Ayd sounded pretty good. I silently entered them in my internal Guitar Encyclopedia before continuing the meeting. I also noted Nate Gangelhoff’s bass, which has a nice bit of Peter Hook’s melodic style to it, always a sweet spot for me. Even though they’ll never be my favorite band, if you’re someone who likes 21st century punk and you haven’t heard Banner Pilot, you’re cheating yourself.
I was reminded of a couple tiny but ridiculous aspects of my life as I listened to Souvenir. The line “And even though I bruise myself somehow on the same concrete” is a succinct description of how I manage to injure myself in strange ways. Last week, I cut my left earlobe while shaving. You might ask how I did that. Here’s how: I was shaving up the left side of my face and my brain shut off for a fraction of a second, resulting in the razor traveling onto/into my earlobe. Better still, later that week, I did it again to my right earlobe. Even sillier is the fact that I’ve gotten toothpaste in my eye because I’ve brushed so aggressively that I lose control of the brush and it just runs up my face. (Toothpaste in the eye burns more than soap, by the way.) I should point out that those examples have occurred while sober. The other one comes from the line “And I’m still reaching for a dream that broke away,” which sums up most mornings when I wake up. I remember most of my dreams, and by extension, I manage to startle myself awake most mornings. My dreams are never scary in the traditional sense; there are no ghosts or serial killers or monsters chasing me. When my dreams are scary, they’re scary in the way a David Lynch film is scary: it’s surreal and weird but entirely plausible. It’s a near-constant feeling of “What the fuck is happening?” But as scary as they can be, they rarely, if ever, come to a natural conclusion. Instead, I frequently wake up with an elevated heart rate and disorientation. I seldom get the chance to reach something akin to catharsis when I dream so that I wake up in a relaxed state. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s fun being me.
Willing pop punk back into relevance with passionate determination & impressive skill.
I feel like this is an album that Richmond would really get behind. I don’t mean that as an insult, obviously, I love Richmond. And Richmond loves its punk music. Green Day is probably a lazy comparison, but I think that’s where my head automatically went, listening to this record. There’s a lot to be learned from those Green Day tracks, as well as the tracks on this one. Punk and pop punk genres use subtle changes in layering and arrangement to distinguish chord progressions that are often the same throughout the song. In a way, it’s almost reminiscent of funk music, or jazz, in that structurally, the music is often quite straightforward, but there’s a lot going on underneath. It would be easy to criticize this album as sounding “samey” throughout, but the reality is that the subtle changes between songs make you pay even more attention to the small differences. A lot of the albums that we cover here seem to have stayed “off the radar,” more because of when they came out than because of the quality of their sound. This album may have missed the peak of pop punk’s popularity, as it came out in 2014. That’s a shot at explaining why some things make it huge, and some become cult classics, but hey, at least I gave it a try. This album is no less appealing than Fall Out Boy, or Green Day to me, but maybe people who really listen to the genre could distinguish more easily. I might need to dig deeper into the punk music scene and then give this one a re-listen.
Lately I have been crazy busy and frankly, burnt out from how much I have been working. Now that summer is here, I find that I put so much pressure on myself to always have something to do, and I think that is just millennial culture — no one wants to miss out. Things have been such an emotional roller coaster over the past few weeks, I feel like I haven’t even had a day to myself to recharge, and as I am sitting here listening to this album, that’s exactly what today is. A rainy day in need of some quality relaxing time with a tea in one hand, and the speakers blaring. Coming off an amazing concert the other day, I’m getting back into my musical mood (which let’s face it, never goes away) and eager to listen to anything and everything. The second I saw the album art I was intrigued, honestly because it looks like a tattoo I didn’t even know I wanted to get! Putting on this record, intrigue turned into joy as I was gifted a great album, top to bottom. It reminds me a little of back in the day when I listened to MayDay Parade 24/7. Their musicality is on point and they have that perfect punk/rock sound — like Simple Plan meets Blink 182. And I love it because even though to me I can pick up all these influences, they have a sound that is completely their own. The tracks all blend seamlessly into one another and the overall sound of the album has really picked me up. Even though it’s raining outside, listening to this makes me not care about the crappy weather one bit. That’s all I really want from music — to distract me, and take me to a place where I am content and at peace. And Banner Pilot does just that, so find out for yourself.
15 years ago, I had a very nasty opinion of pop punk. I hated Simple Plan and Fall Out Boy. Did my best to avoid My Chemical Romance, and rolled my eyes at Yellowcard. Had inside/running jokes with my friends about Good Charlotte. (One that comes up was a recurring team name in party games: “Mr. Goodbar good, not Good Charlotte good.” Completely un-funny as I type it out… as all inside jokes are really.) Thought the appeal of blink-182 was solely in marketing, and their only truly “great” tracks were the ones that broke the pop punk convention (“Adam’s Song“, “I Miss You“). Green Day was the lone exception, and I actually remember trying to justify myself by saying that they were somehow different. Yikes. 15 years later and my distaste has softened for the most part. I came around to MCR and love them now. Yellowcard is something I don’t mind hearing every now and then, and I even have a few songs from Simple Plan on my phone. Overall though, I still look back on that early-to-mid 2000s pop punk era as hokey — a bunch of bands with the same sound, trying to out nasal the other’s vocals, out riff the other’s guitars, out hook the other’s chorus, and out market the other’s image. But I realized that all of these points of critique started to decrease steadily as the decade continued and the 2010s rolled in. Sure, there were still some cases of what I just listed out, but I’m pretty confident that if you were to make a “Best Pop Punk” mix from 2000-2005, 2005-2010, and 2010-2015, you’ll see how the genre moved away from bands trying to copy each other to bands trying to forge their own sound and identity inside a small sonic space. If we were to have those mixes, I’m sure Banner Pilot would fill up most of the 2010-2015 mix, with tracks like “Alchemy” and “Spanish Reds” from 2011’s Heart Beats Pacific getting key slots near the beginning. You wouldn’t go wrong there — two solid tracks from an album most people would recommend. But where you would go wrong is not making the jump to 2014 with Souvenir and checking out those tracks, 12 in all that could literally fill the first half of that “Best Pop Punk 2010-2015” mix without anyone raising any concern. Sure, you’d need to jumble it up a little, but just sequence “Modern Shakes” into “Shoreline” followed by “Letterbox” and “Summer Ash,” and you’ve got a killer four track opening stretch that would make your mix in hot demand, whether it be on a physical CD sharpied with your bad handwriting, or on Spotify with some ridiculously long title that’s some type of inside joke (aka not funny because you typed it out). Banner Pilot is a perfect example of just how much pop punk has grown in the last 15 years — offering the same chugging energy and slightly snotty spirit, but infusing it with better songwriting, better production, and better melodies. It all flows out so organically too, something I also felt was antithetical to the pop punk of the 2000s. There, it felt like a rock had been meticulously polished from its unique shape and rough edges into something uniform to be mass produced. Banner Pilot and other pop punk today is polished too, but in a completely different fashion. Here, it’s been polished to accentuate its differences. It might spend a lot of time on those rough edges, but instead of sanding them into oblivion, they’ve made them more pointed and remarkable. They may have contorted the overall shape, but it’s still reminiscent of where it came from and still wholly unique. And Banner Pilot took that ethos to heart, making noticeable and remarkable jumps from record to record. Put on 2009’s Collapser and then 2011’s Heart Beats Pacific, and you could clearly track it in a single line. But to say that line would be 100% straight or linear would be a laughable statement, and that’s something that carries strongly over into 2014’s Souvenir, an aptly named record that highlights everything amazing about pop punk and Banner Pilot in under forty minutes. And at the risk of being hokey like the sound I just slammed, it’s a souvenir you should seek out for your collection today.
All Girl Summer Fun Band by All Girl Summer Fun Band
Chosen By SJ Lebowski