In reviewing Light Years’ first full length record I Won’t Hold This Against You, I had to be a more serious (mature?) critic than I usually am and resist the urge to dump the album after a couple of listens, dismissing the group behind it as yet another hopelessly derivative, Warped Tour bound, pop-punk/alternative band. I also had to keep this piece from turning into yet another tired ‘defend/destroy pop punk’ rant.
So that’s what I did. I put the record on the back-burner for a while and came back to it a few weeks later after the initial insta-disgust with which I welcome most new pop-punk had worn away. Surprisingly enough, it sounded reasonably better.
So then, Light Years are a Cleveland Ohio pop-punk quartet and I Won’t Hold This Against You is their first full length release with Paper+Plastick Records, after a 2012 EP Just Between Us and an earlier self-released LP in 2010, neither of which I heard.
One thing I will not resist is the temptation to pigeon-hole them with the rest of today’s predominant pop punk bands, including most notably The Wonder Years, The Story so Far, Man Overboard, and Mixtapes. If you have any of these bands’ recent offerings in your ipod right now, chances are Light Years’ record will feel right at home in their company. They’ve also been touring all summer with Mixtapes and You Blew It!, so, you know, they all kinda go together.
To make sure you don’t give too much credence to the actual rating I gave the album, I’ll say this: I much preferred it to the last Wonder Years album which was reviewed very favorably on this here website. For one thing, Light Years has a mean guitar going on several tracks, which helps distinguish them from their peers who are often plagued by an ‘overproduced out of existence’ guitar work. This is obvious from the very first notes of the great album opener “Uphill Battles.” It is, however, the best guitar riff on the whole album in my opinion.
This is not to say that it’s all downhill from there (witty no?). Unarguably, the best song on that record comes a bit later, and it is called “Put Myself Together.” It recalls heyday era Blink 182 in the way the verse is given a central place in the song’s dynamic progression, making the chorus nothing more than a buildup to the next verse. This interesting twist, combined with the very satisfying guitar riff and the vocal harmonies, add up to an excellent example of pop-punk songcrafting, not so much for its originality, but for its effectiveness and quality.
Lyrically the album doesn’t stray very far from personal struggle, self-doubt, and perseverance through both. If that doesn’t sound particularly inspiring, or very interesting, it’s because it isn’t. It also feels as if at times the songs are thematically out of sync with the mood that is established musically. “Hindsight” is a good example: the bouncy, poppy beat of the song clashes oddly with the whole ‘I run my hand across my father’s grave’ gloomy and introspective subject matter. Still, the overarching themes of the album, whether the insecurity brought about by looming adulthood or the nostalgia of fading youth, will resonate with a lot of listeners I’m sure.
And then I guess it really is all downhill; the rest of the album isn’t sloppy or utterly boring, but no other song achieves the same level as “Put Myself Together,” and so most songs seem easily forgettable. What I get from this, though, is a sense of potential, as if the band has it in them creatively and talent-wise to come up with a highly-successful pop-punk record, but just hasn’t reached that stage yet.
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