Brutal Youth and their Kid Dynamite loving ways are back with their sophomore full-length Stay Honest— quite possibly their best and catchiest work to date. This time around we find them departing slightly from their mimicry of the Melodic Hardcore Gods of Old and working (slowly) to establish their own derivation of one of punk’s most popular sound. What once was hardcore with tuneful woah-ohs and shouted melodies has a bit more pop punk in its blood this time around, and honestly the band is better for it. Brutal Youth is to melodic hardcore as Direct Hit! is to pop punk– a relentless party punk band with an aggressive spirit and deceptively intelligent lyricism.
“53 Degrees” opens the album with a false start accordion riff, before blasting into some fun, throaty melodic hardcore. The woahs are as catchy as ever, providing back-up to Patty’s machine gun delivery in the first verse and later serving up doo-wop esque ‘ba ba ba’s.’ “Best Policy” is more blatantly hardcore, featuring venomous vocals and a focus on intensity rather than melody– a sweet taste of Brutal Youth’s darker side. Another song in this vein is the thirty-eight second “Albatross,” which manages to include so much it feels like a song of a much longer length– it also strikes the perfect balance between rage and melody, working in some great gang vocals along the way.
Of all the bands I was expecting to compare Brutal Youth to, Green Day was not one of them. But, it stands to mention that there’s a distinct Dookie era sound to a couple of the tracks on Stay Honest, most notably “John Hughes Proverb.” This is far from a bad thing, because unlike Green Day, Brutal Youth never comes off as adolescent. The saccharine melodies they inject into their work are fun, subversive, and a complement to their breakneck speed.
Brutal Youth still maintain their melodic hardcore roots though, so fans of their earlier work won’t be disappointed– but some listeners may find it a little exhausting. A case could be made for this particular style being fairly homogenous, especially when the ratio is mixed in hardcore’s favor. Stay Honest isn’t immune from this and does occasionally get lost in a slew of similar sounding songs– but this is more of an issue with the tracking than the music. With eighteen tracks and only twenty-two minutes of runtime, it’s ultimately the sheer volume of music packed into Stay Honest that makes it lose points. Songs like “One Lb” help break up the sameness– in this case by trying something different, like a slower tempo– but there’s not enough of them scattered throughout the tracklist to effectively make Stay Honest more palatable.
Lyrically, Stay Honest is as exceptional as their previous work– a quality of theirs that is not nearly appreciated enough. It’s too easy to write them off as a ‘fun’ band, undeserving of deep analysis; but a cursory look at their lyrics reveal Brutal Youth to be assured and vibrant with a knack for poetic introspection. My favorite song on the Stay Honest is the anti-straight edge themed “Piss and Wine.” Brutal Youth discusses the movement from a very personal, relatable angle. More impressive still, is that they do it in so few words, few enough that I can post them in their entirety:
“The condescending questions never seem to fucking end.
Stuck pandering to the insecure and it’s wearing fucking thin.
“Don’t drink? Don’t smoke? Don’t Fuck?”
Won’t spend my life on the defense.
I’m proud of all my choices and I’m proud of all my friends.
When they’re sober, when they’re drunk
I’m by their side no matter what.
There’s no fucking moral high ground here
And nobody’s life is any better spent.”
Cutting, concise, and ultimately very human– “Piss and Wine” is punk rock lyricism at its finest.
Stay Honest isn’t perfect, but its flaws are weak enough that most listeners will disregard them entirely. Brutal Youth are as good as ever and while I found myself wishing their album was as tight as their individual songs, I still couldn’t help but brim with enthusiasm at its existence. Stay Honest is a great record that’s as hard and fast as it is catchy; a prime example of Brutal Youth’s talent.