Cartel – Cycles
Record Label: Wind-Up Records
Release Date: October 20th, 2009
In the pop-punk genre, Cartel is pretty much a household name. How this came to be, well, that actually depends on the household. In music you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done, so most people will remember their stint in the bubble rather than their critically acclaimed debut album Chroma. A shame? Yes, but that’s just how this business works. So, rather than debate the validity of that album or even to try and compare it to their debut, let’s move onward and upward, in a direction where acronyms like “MTV” and words like “Bubble” will only apply to people like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers’ purity rings. In a direction where we can focus on Cartel’s spin on some newly inspired pop-punk music via the vehicle Cycles, their newly released album.
Two years ago, it’s no surprise that Cartel seemed poised to break it exponentially huge following the success of Chroma. They toured for over two and half years off that record. With each tour, they garnered more and more praise, and more and more fans. Opening shows was a thing of the past. They were headliners, and rightfully so. Then, after their sophomore release, Cartel, they almost fell completely off the map. To say that it’s been a tumultuous few years would be an understatement, to say the least. Things that would’ve crushed other bands into obscurity only seemed to inspire, motivate, and propel Cartel forward into their new release. With the past behind them and Will Pugh’s vocals in front of them, the new album is picturesque of the cycle they’ve gone through over the last thirty-six months.
Cycles opens up with “Let’s Go” a track that is an homage to everything that they’ve been through. Pugh fires out from the gate with “Let me reintroduce myself, as a man with a cause. I’ve had a lot of time to think and look at who we are.” It’s two minutes and forty seconds of a sweet, sweet pop-punk anthem that starts this album off in fine Cartel style. “The Perfect Mistake” rolls up next and has a hook and chorus that we have come to expect from the band. “Faster Ride” has to be a crowd favorite with it’s uptempo chorus and catchy lyrics. A personal favorite on the album is “Deep South.” It’s a tribute to their heritage in Conyers, Georgia. It’s dark and heavy, but it’s also alive and vibrant with lyrics like “I was born in the south. Given to a town, raised on hand to mouth. Born on the same day as the sun, holding in the Earth’s seed, one by one.” The chorus is one of the most powerful to date – “Go and get my bones, bring’em to the Deep South. Somewhere they can thaw out. Here in the Deep South.”
There are very few hiccups on this album. In fact, I love each song, each in its own way. “27 Steps” might sound generic on the first listen, but its charisma opens up after a few spins. “Typical” shows Pugh’s vocal strength when he hits the chorus and hook. Songs like “Only You,” “It Still Remains” and “See Me Now” might feel like filler on an initial listen, but after listening again and dissecting the lyrics, they have their own attributes, and flaws, that will make you fall in love with them too. The album ends with “Retrograde,” which is probably my favorite track and, by far, one of the best Cartel tracks ever. It’s powerful, poignant, and epic in it’s message and delivery. While I’m sure everyone will always compare each release to Chroma, I honestly feel that with their growth and maturity over the last few years, Cycles is their best material yet. Sure, there’s no “Q” or “A” or “Minstrel’s Prayer,” but really, I don’t want another Chroma.
Cycles is about where they were, where they’ve been, and where they are now. It’s an album about what they’ve learned. An exiting lyric on “Retrograde” says all we need to know about Cartel and their journey thus far – “I’m out of place, I’m a different state. A little scattered by a bitter fate. I’m losing touch, but I’m not afraid. I’ll be okay, just in a different way.”
Their tales are present and raw in the form of a great pop-punk album that should surely bring Cartel back to the forefront of this genre. This time, for all the right reasons.