Sunshine State comes from a land of Replacements and Jawbreaker worship. These are punk jams, sure, but they come with baggage of being an adult. Does being an adult mean disavowing the aggression of middle finger politics and whiplash tempos? I don’t know, but I feel like Sunshine State might.. They have a “we’re a rock band first” vibe about them, not too different from the ‘Mats, who distanced themselves from the punk label and somehow took rock to an even more back to basics state. It’s all about the song, first and foremost, and I feel like if Sunshine State is punk, well, it’s only incidental. It’s probably not on their list of things they’re trying to be, and that’s okay.
Pour is their debut full-length, and they have a lot to say. Sunshine State is going to have trouble shaking the famous connections of their drummer, but with each and every release it becomes easier. Warren Oakes is behind the drumkit, yes, but it isn’t Against Me! and isn’t trying to be. It shares a Gainesville-ian sense of punk though, with songwriting up front and center and melody being the dominant driving force. Its not hard to hear some Radon spread out across this collection of songs.
Both “Lunchblood” and “Long in the Tooth” appeared previously on their split with Dead Bars, and here they are re-recorded and both sound punchier. Each song is a stand-out, filled with singable melodies and harmonic instrumentation. “Heroin” is a new song that immediately caught my ear with its jaunty refrain of the title drug. The peppiness of the track in light of the subject matter gives the song a strong irreverence that brings to mind the Ramones’ desire to be sedated. Of course, they aren’t advocating heroin here, but they aren’t giving it a slow, earnest ballad either. They’re tearing through it with energy and a sing-a-long that makes it feel like they are literally attacking the drug and what it can do to lives.
The oddball track on Pour is “Friends of the Deceased,” it comes across as a Joy Division aping, complete with melancholy synth. It’s really not my style, but I can’t help but be a little enamored by how perfectly it all fits together. The synth hook is catchy and dark, and it really could’ve scored a cringey, intimate moment of teen angst in a forgotten John Hughes’ movie. “We Discussed It, We Disgusted” is good beyond its great title. The hook is supplemented by ascending and descending guitar leads and it goes from being big and loud to quiet and intense. The synth reappears here, raising further questions of what Sunshine State wants to be exactly. It all still works, but the synth is an instrument loaded with sonic ties to a time and place and scene that aren’t easy to break free from.
Pour is a solid album with a handful of excellent tracks that succeed on the strength of their songwriting, but its plagued by a lot of the same flaws of its influences. The Replacements’ bland, almost droney rock ‘n roll is in the bones of Sunshine State, although in my opinion they do it better than The Replacements ever could. The riffs feel punchy, and when it all comes to together it can feel positively transcendent. The melodies feel alive, but when the most interesting track on your album is simultaneous frontrunner for worst, there’s an inherent problem. It comes down to the fact that it all feels so safe. I don’t like synth, but when it becomes more prominent on Pour, those are the moments where the album becomes something. Sunshine State do have a great knack for songwriting though, and for a lot of fans of that will be enough– but even with punk bands that aren’t punk, I need a little risk.