Punk rock, for me, begins with introspection. Now before I get tarred and feathered—anarchy, fucking-the-system, cops, politics, veganism, gender identity, and more are all just as equally valid. Blame it on the records I grew up with, blame it on my soft, mushy, poetic heart—but there’s still nothing more thrilling to me than self discovery. Navel gazing is the diving board that sends you plummeting into ideas. More and more, I can’t help but think that Guerilla Poubelle was right, and punk rock is existentialism. On the journey to change, we look inward; and I can’t help but think, all this moshing and screaming was us thrashing towards our own authenticity.
But gone are the days where punk meant only one thing. In the last thirty years, the genre has become a vehicle for self-reflection and a number of albums have shown the merit of this approach. Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Hot Water Music’s Fuel For the Hate Game, and later, Against Me!’s Reinventing Axl Rose. The thread continues to the modern day and the music has become punk canon, a source of influence and intertextuality—conscious and subconscious—a sonic and perspective bookmark to flip back to when a comparison is warranted.
The Creeps’ Beneath the Pines very much follows in that same headspace, even if they don’t ape the sounds. Thematics aside, first and foremost, this is an album of great songs. And second, The Creeps are a pop punk band. What this means to the listener, is that this is a record with an even rarer color palette. Beneath the Pines is personal, melancholy, and melodic; and paired with its ghostly, reverb-drenched production—it makes for an experience as haunting as it is human.
But before we get too far, let’s look at how the Creeps succeed as a pop punk band. For me, the primary task of any catchy punk is to be, well, catchy—and this is where the Creeps build their foundation. The melodies across this album never cease being gorgeous. They stick to you like glue, and accordingly, they’re treated like the star of the show. There are some nice guitar flourishes throughout the album, but for the most part, they’re adhesive. This isn’t to diminish the instrumentals on Beneath the Pines, but rather to shine a light on their conceived unobtrusiveness. “Shimmer” opens with one such riff, and “In My Mind” features a catchy lead as well, but for the most part, they’re kept lean and better for it. They manage to balance being present without being overbearing, often scaling back to chugs to let the vocals breathe. They are the detailing that give the songs depth, but still communicate a common law: when the chorus comes in—you’re supposed to sing along.
The best problem an album can have is having too many highlights to list. “Bottom of Things” has some hard-hitting and relatable lyricism (“Eye contact—I practice everything. Except sleeping, I don’t do that much these days.”) packaged into a big, infectious chorus. It also features a somber, emotional bridge that builds to rapturous howls. “Bodies” is another excellent track, more aggressive than “Bottom of Things,” suitably propelled with the galloping strum of distorted power chords. The opening lyrics are almost a thesis statement: “These human bodies, such beautiful acts of betrayal.” It’s interesting and inherently relatable, a eulogy for our mortal vessels, doomed to flat tires and oil leaks—destined for a ditch. The chorus, for me, captures the inevitable, and how we humans fight to sublimate death into something we can idolize, the reclamation of suffering through art:
It’s not the tightest ship,
In fact there are holes,
You said, “you’re bleeding from the lip,”
I said, “it’s spilling from my soul.”
Attaching meaning to hurt is nothing new, but it succeeds holistically, in cabal with the melody and insistent rhythm, transcending metaphor to be screamed as a rallying cry.
In parallel to the album’s themes of nostalgia and memory, I can’t help but think about the records that shaped my taste and therefore my life. Do you know I remember where I was the first time I heard Repeater? Same for Fuel for the Hate Game, Searching for a Former Clarity, and The Empire Strikes First. All of those records are tied to sights and sounds, old futon beds and my first record player; my first laptop and my senior year of high school. These gave me the start I needed to digging up my insides. To pull a quote from “Fall:”
I fear we’re all just fated to these capsules of time
Like memories of pure bliss beneath these sky-tall pines
And either that’s all that’s left, or even those leave our minds
And then we all fall down,
And then we all fall
The Creeps paint a picture of a race against time—the same one we’re all running. I’ve been known to call art made for everyone to be art made for no one. These are books, movies, and songs that aspire to a sort of bland universality, that couch their stories and melodies in the most brash representatives of the human experience. They cover heartbreak, love, and worry with those exact words, like Mad Libs of the human condition. The Creeps dig deeper though, and in exploring themselves they end up with examinations of greater humanity—the failings of our body, the social contract, depression, and addiction. They do this through specificity, by joining a great tradition of punk rockers working through some shit. It’s a healthy reminder that even though we don’t have the same “sky-tall pines,” we do all have them—and they’re worth holding onto.
Beneath the Pines is at once heady and nostalgic, introspective and musical. It communicates experience skillfully, with slice-of-life imagery and universal angst. It inspires empathy, while also inspiring awe. This is a pop punk record unlike any I’ve heard before, and if this is where the Creeps landed after nearly two decades of activity, I think it speaks well of their trajectory. This is personal, specific music born from a unique vision—re-envisioning punk rock into something new, useful, and defiantly esoteric.