I’ve no doubt that when the band Topanga chose their name in honour of their teen crush Topanga Lawrence (now Matthews), they didn’t foresee a possible lawsuit as a result. Even if their band did get big enough to gain the notice of ABC TV (starting a punk with ideas of fame and fortune usually leads only to heartbreak), the show had been off the air for over ten years. But, according to Bad Religion, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and as it just so happens, Disney picked up a series earlier this year called ‘Girl Meets World.’ A sequel to Boy, featuring none other than Danielle Fishel as Topanga Matthews, all grown up and hot as hell (check her out on the cover of Maxim earlier this year), in a lead role. Around the same time, Topanga, the little Toronto band that could, quickly gained a reputation in eastern Canada for their incendiary live performances and insanely catchy/aggressive/poppy/hard charging music.
Sensing big things in their future, Topanga changed the name of their band to PUP (Pathetic Use of Potential), just in time to release their debut record on Canadian label Royal Mountain Records.
I don’t know how much buzz has been bizzing south of the border, but up here in Canada, PUP has been met with nothing but huge amounts of enthusiasm and excitement. So much so in fact, that it would seem as if these four childhood friends were poised to singlehandedly save punk music from itself, without any of us even knowing it was on its way out (well, mainstream punk rock has been dying a slow death for many years).
And it’s not hard to see why. ‘Pup’ is filled to the brim with anthemic shout along chorus’, fist pumping sentiments, gritty three chord punk riffage and all of it sounding very much like it was recorded in a garage, or a bedroom.
And that’s one of the most attractive aspects of this band’s sound, one of the hooks. The down to earth, no budget, no bullshit production values. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking Misfits’ ‘Walk Among Us’ levels of low budgetry, I’m sure PUP sunk a bit of money into the record, but it makes the Foo Fighters recent garage record ‘Wasting Light’ sound like Queen’s ‘A Night at the Opera.’
I also think that’s part of the anticipation and excitement the band is garnering. People are getting sick of over produced, computer slick records where nary a note or chord is out of place.
To hear a band attack their songs with the ravenous fury of PUP and make it all sound so live, so right in front of you, even listening to it through your shitty Mac speakers, is refreshing to say the least. This isn’t a band that sounds as though they’re overly worried about a misplaced note or an extra cymbal crash.
Of course the flip side to that (there are many flip sides to this band) is that they achieve this sound without ever sounding sloppy. The music carries a controlled chaos that I suspect is as much the product of premeditation as spontaneity.
In fact, for a good example of this dichotomy, one needs look no further than the kick off track ‘Guilt Trip.’ Cranking off with a hardcore beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Madball record, it quickly switches gears as Steve Sladkowski’s lead guitar provides the melodic hook that feeds into vocalist Stefan Babcock’s throaty inquiry ‘how many times have you lied to my face’ before he goes on to spell out all the dark clouds that a relationship in unravel produces at its death knell. The song is an incredibly catchy wall of sound and hell of a way to start a record.
Before you catch your breath though, ‘Reservoir’ charges right in and kicks you in the left cheek bone. ‘Reservoir’ is the best song on the record. It has an infectiously youthful energy and the fattest, juiciest chorus I’ve heard in years.
‘Mabu’ is a poppier song that eases up on the heavy, buzzing guitars a bit without slowing things down a single beat per minute. It’s one of the most musically impressive tracks on the record. Zack Mykula just attacks his drums and the gang vocal’d attack prominently featured throughout the song will light a fire in your chest like a third handful of pork rinds. ‘Never Try’ and ‘Dark Days’ follow a similar pattern.
I am definitely someone who is drawn to fast music. Whether it’s punk, 90’s hip hop, 50’s rockabilly, I’ll usually skip over the slower songs on a record to keep the train chugging at a good pace. So when I tell you that the song ‘Yukon’ on PUP’s debut is not only the slowest track on the record, but also one of my favourites, it means that this band is something special. Would I lie to you? As track number five, it’s also well placed to allow for people moshing in their living rooms or cars (not recommended) to take a breather and rehydrate.
If one song off this record is going to invade the airwaves of your local modern rock radio stations, it’s ‘Lionheart.’ Another big, fat chorus, another barrel full of gang vocals, another gem.
‘Cul-de-Sac’ is another slower tune which is interesting in that it sounds like an Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros reject if Edward’s Alex Ebert went back to his punk roots. It’s a beautiful song with soaring melodies and a rollicking beat.
‘Back Against the Wall’ and ‘Factories’ end the record off in appropriately energetic pure punk fury, with ‘Factories’ devolving into a hardcore punk beat masse that leaves you feeling giddy. Also leaves you to realize your throat is dry because your mouth has been open in near disbelief for the entire ten song playlist.
PUP’s eponymous debut dropped back in October here in Canada, but won’t see the light of day in America until 2014, where it will be released by Side One Dummy. If you have no way to get a hold of this record until then, this review is probably going to torture you. And it should.
I’d already compiled and submitted by ‘best of 2013’ list to Dying Scene when I finally got a chance to check this record out, but if I hadn’t rest assured it would’ve have gotten into my top 5. Sorry Get Dead, I guess that bumps you off the list.