2011 was a pretty good year for me to crawl out from the rock under which I had been living to reacquaint myself with the world of up-and-coming punk music. Latest on the list of bands that I’m ashamed to say I only recently opened my eyes to is Buffalo, New York’s Rust Belt Lights. The five-piece outfit play a high-energy, pop punk that is not unlike early New Found Glory with enough of a modern post-hardcore undercurrent to keep it from sounding old. In fact, “These Are The Good Old Days” is an album that has consistently gotten better with each and every listen (which means an awful lot of listens at this point, since it was released in 2010 on Paper + Plastick Records).
What Rust Belt Lights does well, it does VERY well. “I Can’t Stay Home,” “Guilt Trip” and “Home, Sweet Home” are probably the best examples of all Rust Belt Lights in a nutshell: high energy tracks with plenty of tempo changes, melodic guitar layered over chunky power chords and group-chant backing vocals that support frontman Zach Dietsch’s tales of disappointment, rejection and alienation (not in the macro, societal since, but in the micro, interpersonal sense). The unfortunately-titled “You’ve Been Smoochin’ Wit Everybody” is the album’s shortest track (fifty-nine seconds) but is somehow successful at cramming a lot of those styles in as well.
Rust Belt Lights’ rhythm section is pretty tight and plays with such energy that at times it feels like a lesser band would be sent spiraling frantically out of control (“fortyfive” and “Welp…See You At Eight” have an abundance of those moments), yet . “Chutes and Ladders” stands as probably the album’s quintessential pop-punkiest track. I was initially going to say that Rust Belt Lights reminds me a lot of recent releases from Black Numbers bands Banquets and Luther, but given that RBL’s album was released last year and the latter two albums were released this year, perhaps it’s the other way around.
The only real miss of the album is the sort of shoe-gazey “oh captain, my captain” middle section of “Sleep Tight,” which works better in theory than in practice, but the song regains its focus by the extended outro. It’s not enough to spoil an otherwise strong track, but is perhaps an example of the band biting off more than they can chew on this release. Though I suppose you’ve got to applaud a younger band for taking some chances, so it’s all good.