Seattle’s Burn Burn Burn has always stayed firmly on my radar. As a young Against Me! fan, specifically the type to pride himself on liking Crime! more than White Crosses, I couldn’t help but take note of a band named after a sloppy, intense anarcho-anthem. Which, in retrospect, is funny—as Burn Burn Burn has nothing to connect themselves to that folky vein of anarcho-punk outside of their namesake. Still—they pull from melodic punk as much as skate punk and the result is fast, catchy, and unafraid of treading into vulnerable territory. With vocalist/lyricist Drew Smith at the helm, Burn Burn Burn feels as much like a diary as it does a party. Chosen Family is another night of headbanging and honest talk, and it comes with the band’s best songwriting to date.
The album opens with “Top Shelf,” a fast-paced rager with the emotional and melodic hook inhabiting the refrain, “I wish you had believed in me!” It’s a simple, direct song that sets the stage for the rest of the album, as well as a solid one-two (then: three-four) punch of some of Burn Burn Burn’s highlights. The next in this sequence is “Catharsis Now,” a catchy banger that features infectious backing vocals and some heart-wrenching lyrics. More so than any of their previous albums, Chosen Family truly feels cohesive in this respect. It’s a real album made with a vision in mind—and on it, Burn Burn Burn seem to have discovered themselves as well, carving out their own respectable niche in the broad, and sometimes monotonous, world of melodic punk.
“Gold Chains and Party Shirts” is one of my favorite tracks on Chosen Family. The title reflects the sense of humor inherent in Burn Burn Burn’s approach to punk rock, and the song itself straddles the line between big singalongs, chugging guitars, hardcore screams, and bendy solos—to put it simply, it captures Burn as they’ve never captured themselves before. “Sharks” continues the winning stretch with a Rancid-ish song that can’t help but pull you back to the joy you experienced hearing your first punk album, back when summer’s meant freedom and the future was a distant dream.
A good album isn’t anything more than good songs put in the right order and Chosen Family is a testament to that. It’s not a flashy album of production tricks or uniqueness for uniqueness’ sake—but it is a showcase in songwriting, and across the board, it excels. There are faults, of course (there’s always faults), and they show most in Smith’s lead vocal performance. The notes aren’t always hit, and the tone suffers from excessive straining. For the most part though, it does its job, while introducing another aspect of Burn Burn Burn’s story: that the songs they write are not disposable. They are personal, foundational to their identity—and they mean enough to be sung, vocal cracks or not.
Chosen Family is without a doubt Burn Burn Burn’s greatest work to date. It sounds like them, while simultaneously codifying what them means. Songs like “20th and Hendo” and “Gold Chains and Party Shirts” may very well come to represent the band’s live shows, fists in the air with voices raised and hoarse. Chosen Family is a raucous punk rock party built on an honest love for all the came before it, as well as the worn-on-the-sleeve emotionality that keeps it connecting to new listeners. It’s a worthy party, and I’m happy to be invited.