Early on in PUP’s new album The Dream is Over, an unnamed woman tells the protagonist he needs to grow up, indicating that the dream that’s over in the album title is one of perpetual adolescence. But as the band’s cacophonous punk anthems and generally fucked up demeanor make clear, that dream isn’t ending peacefully but in rambunctious fits and starts, closer to Peter Pan gone Mad Max than Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?” The result is an album of cathartic frustration, the music colliding with unwanted maturation, fully aware that that won’t resolve anything but delighting in the conflict anyway.
That conflict extends beyond the near adult anxieties, the music itself reflects a band that is defined by the disparate elements constantly at war within each song. PUP can superficially be paired alongside equally raucuous Ontario punk bands like Fucked Up and Metz but at heart their material is poppy, the razorblade guitar lines and gut punch rhythms barely masking the singalong melodies and quotable, kiss off lines. Tracks like “Doubts” nurse a not-so-secret Weezer affinity with their nonstop barrage of riffs, only with less wink wink nudge nudge nerdery and more thoughtful lyrical self-deprecation, mining that awkward territory where your crush has caught on to your affections and you’re forced to play your hand, leaving you spending “more nights on the floor than in [your] bed.”
Even more emo leaning tracks like “My Life is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier” feature key lines calling out the lyrics, like stage whispered asides letting the audience know the narrator knows “that wasn’t subtle at all.” Album opener “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” may have a title that could have come straight from a scrapped Fall Out Boy single but it immediately silences any fears of sappiness by deflating the romanticism of the road with a laundy list of interband complaints, eventually building to a personification of the band’s sonic conflicts with a group chant of “why can’t we just get along?!” desperately trying to interrupt the endless lyric threats.
When the band gets more straightforward, like on “Can’t Win,” they sound closer to Cheap Trick than anyone referenced in Nothing Feels Good, albeit with snottier vocals and screechier lead guitar riffs. “Can’t Win” also functions as a showcase for the band’s mastery of the studio, specifically how talented they are at sounding both polished and completely reckless. In a different era, “Can’t Win” would be blasting out of car stereos in teen movies and still make the top 10 of your favorite blog’s year end list– it’s so irresistible it may as well have been crafted by a clique of punk rock imps.
PUP are, quite simply, a good fucking band, capable of appealing to an enviable cross section of savvy music listeners without sacrificing any of the edge or recklessness that made them a stand out when they first appeared on the critical radar with their muddier, rawer self-titled 2014 release. As much as PUP fight the advancement of age on The Dream is Over, it’s hard to argue with how well their increasing sonic maturity looks on them.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover