PUP – ” The Dream Is Over “

Posted: December 1, 2016 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , , ,

PUP - The Dream Is Over

 

This quartet of childhood friends play a highly infectious propulsive brand of punk rock. There’s a touch of At The Drive-In in their unrelenting use of anthemic group vocals, but these guys are a lot more fun than the El Paso legends.  Their humble claim that they are, “4 dudes who play punk rock. That’s all,” belies the ambitions of their self-titled debut album, released via Side One Dummy Records, which deftly and effortlessly explores indie, classic rock and punk. Aptly, the moniker PUP is an acronym for Pathetic Use of Potential, and their lyrics largely deal with the lethargy and desire to escape that are synonymous with the dichotomies of youth.

The Toronto punk band open their second album, The Dream Is Over, with “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” a portrait of punk rock van life that’s darker and nastier than any I’ve heard at least in song. These guys are waking up on the same living-room floors for months on end, hearing each other tell the same jokes over and over again, wearing on each other’s last nerves. And it’s gotten to the point where every new van haul feels like a prison sentence. “Everything you do makes me wanna vomit / If this tour doesn’t kill you, buddy, I’m on it,” frontman Stefan Babcock hollers. And then: “You think you’re so original / I can’t wait for your funeral!”

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If you’ve ever been in a touring band, or been friends with someone who is, then some of this might ring true. It sounds fun — packing all your shit in a van with your friends, leaving your life behind for a few weeks, playing loud music for strangers, seeing the world. But every dream job eventually becomes a job, and this one happens to be a low-paying, transit-heavy, privacy-annihilating dream job. If you talk to enough people in bands, and if they’re willing to puncture your romantic image, you might learn that  for instance  going to Europe sucks because nobody has good weed and because you’re always dealing with customs people.

And yet the way PUP play the song, it still sounds fun. PUP have levels of on-record energy that I’m just not used to hearing in 2016 — from a punk band or from any other sort of band. They play with a rocketing urgency, charging headlong into every chorus with guns blazing. They’re unapologetic disciples of the whole EpiFat sound — the ’90s variation on melodic California pop-punk that briefly conquered the world. And they play it like it’s new, that combination of all-out speed and sugary melody and snot-rocket sarcasm. Babcock’s voice is a passionate nasal harangue, and every time they get the chance, his bandmates join in on some gang-shout singalong shit. They’ve also learned from emo and post-hardcore and fuzzed-up revivalist Japandroids-style indie rock, with all these chords crashing and dynamics switching up in profoundly satisfying ways. The Dream Is Over is a short album, just a hair over half an hour, and it never lets up. That’s good.

But while the music is hurtling along, Babcock is putting all his energy into making twentysomething life sound like a living hell. “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You” is the only song that explicitly addresses the day-to-day realities of being in a band, but the rest of the album is all about that stage of life, how much it can fucking suck. When you get past that time, it takes on a rosy glow, but when you’re in it, the puke-sticky floors and day-long hangovers and warning-your-account-has-dipped-below-$25 emails seem like they’re never going to end. Again and again, Babcock sings about himself as a drunk loser who can’t keep a relationship together — partly, at least, because so many of his relationships are with other drunk losers. “I’m sick and tired of blacking out on my carpet / And waking up all alone / So I brought you home,” he wails. Then, later: “I can’t stand you trying to save me / It’s so fucking frustrating.” And nothing drives him more nuts than the people who express concern over his wellbeing, to the point where his most self-deprecating line almost registers as a gloat: “They used to say, ‘Don’t quit your day job!’ / Guess what? I never had one!”

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Before the band recorded the album, Babcock went to see a doctor because his throat was hurting. The doctor told him his vocal cords were damaged and that he’d have to stop singing. That’s where the title came from; the doctor actually told him, verbatim, “The dream is over.” Babcock, of course, decided that no, fuck that. If anything, he’s yelling even louder on The Dream Is Over than he was on PUP’s 2013 debut. But you get the sense, listening to the album, that this whole thing could end anytime. His voice could just give out on him completely, and he knows it. So he’s packed all his angst and anxiety into one furiously fun 31-minute album, knowing that it could well be his last. And more than any rock album I’ve heard in a long minute, he sounds like he’s saying things that he absolutely needed to say. Sometimes, you see, your own body and your own friends can seem as malicious as a pack of machete-wielding white-nationalist skinheads. And sometimes, you just have to yell about it.

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