Larusso - Life in Static
Release Date: August 15, 2014
Record Label: Self-Released
It was 2003 and 2004 when I really started to get into music, which meant that I was becoming a pop cultural obsessive about the same time as the pop culture was spitting out pop punk bands and making them into radio stars. From Jimmy Eat World to Blink 182, Yellowcard to Taking Back Sunday, The Ataris to Fall Out Boy, Anberlin to The Starting Line, the early 2000s were a haven for records and bands that this scene still holds up as the gold standards – even if many of those bands have changed an awful lot (or even broken up) since they released their classics. In recent years, we’ve seen a few bands that have successfully built followings based on emulating the sounds of the early 2000s pop punk wave. The Dangerous Summer was the big one, while last year brought bands like State Champs that almost certainly came up listening to records like Ocean Avenue and Say it Like You Mean It.
With all of that said, though, I don’t think I’ve heard a record since 2003 or 2004 that captured the spirit of the early pop punk wave with the level of nostalgic authenticity that Salt Lake City quartet Larusso strike on their new album, Life in Static. Make no mistake, if this album had come out 10 years ago, it would have been an automatic homerun. The back-up vocals recall early Taking Back Sunday, the lead vocals scream The Starting Line, the bruising guitars recall Jimmy Eat World, and the hook-laced melodies are some combination of all the bands mentioned above. All of the sonic similarities and references are, of course, intentional, and it’s worth noting that there is probably no greater compliment that I can give to this band than that you could easily drop Life in Static into a playlist along with the pop punk classics of the early 2000s and you wouldn’t even notice that it doesn’t belong.
In other words, if you’re in the mood for a nostalgic trip back to your torturned high school or junior high days, then there is arguably no album from 2014 that will provide that kind of time machine phenomenon quite like this one. If you left this music behind a long time ago, you’ll probably hear Life in Static as derivative and dull, and that’s fine. For me, there’s a pleasant pang of wistfulness in these songs, not lessened by the fact that the vocals and musicianship are strong and that the production strikes a nice balance between pop punk’s requisite level of sheen and emo’s rawer, more emotionally explosive sound.
The other factor that keeps Life in Static afloat is that the songs are more diverse than on many pop punk albums. My problem with the State Champs record from last year was that it seemed to be one driving mid-tempo guitar number after the other, to the point that the album got boring even though it had a handful of solid hooks and an overall enjoyable atmosphere. Sure, Larusso don’t exactly do any trailblazing on this record. The first three tracks, for instance – “Chase the Sun,” “The Voice,” and “Drifter” – work precisely off the same formula that has propelled pop punk bands for years: power chords, emotive vocals, big hooks, and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics.
Still, the band makes a point of drifting a little bit outside of its wheelhouse on a few of this record’s best tracks, slowing down the tempo for the should-be nighttime drive staple, “Living Proof,” or firing off a fun acoustic guitar bopper with “Set Phasers to Fun” (which is easily the best song that Plain White Tees never wrote). “Take Me Away,” meanwhile trades the guitars for pianos in a song that vaguely recalls “The Conversation,” the emotional lynchpin from Motion City Soundtrack’s Even if it Kills Me. There’s even a female guest vocalist on the song, adding measures of delicate beauty to an album that more frequently shoots for full-blown emotional bombast. “It’s not fair to fall asleep with these thoughts running through my mind/The seconds blended into dreams where we’re close again,” one of the opening lyrics reads. Where was this shit when I was in my angsty AIM away message stage?
For people who aren’t already a fan of the pop punk genre, Life in Static isn’t going to be a game-changer. But records like this – shamelessly heart-on-the-sleeve affairs with big guitars, bigger melodies, and endlessly earnest and heartfelt lyrics – are the kinds of discs that too few bands make these days. I’ve been a big fan of the modern wave of pop punk, from the literate musings of The Wonder Years to this year’s finest pop punk album, Fireworks’ mournful, death-shrouded Oh, Common Life, but hearing a band like Larusso, a band that takes every ounce of its inspiration from the bands and albums that got many of us into music at the turn of the century, is a nice glance back. It’s a trip to a a time when nothing mattered more than the girl you couldn’t find the courage to talk to, and the songs that said everything you wanted to say. That may not be a time everyone is anxious to go back to, but it’s a testament to the quality of this record that it has the power to take you there.