Developing a Theory of Integrity was one of my favorite releases back in 2016. Back then, they were on Red Scare—one in a long line of bands that helped carve out the label’s reputation as having the best ear for signings in the game. Now, three years later, MakeWar has come a long way. In the interim, I had the pleasure of seeing them play twice—and two times I got a look into their continued development, and subsequent dominance, within the world of melodic punk. Once at Fest: where they played one of the best sets of the weekend (complete with a blow-up orca bouncing around the moshpit—you know, the one from the album cover). People were into it; loving it, eating it up. This was a crowd of fans who knew every word, who had already adopted their latest release into their all-time favorites. MakeWar had made good on everything their song’s promised. The second time I saw them, they were on the bill of a mega tour, opening for Lagwagon and Face to Face. Of course, this was writing on the wall, writing I should’ve read. MakeWar was poised to release on Fat Wreck Chords, joining the talented masses that got their start on Red Scare and graduated to the upper echelon of modern punk.
If any band can do it, it’s MakeWar. This is a band that thrives on the one X-factor that can make or break a group: songwriting. Anyone who’s heard Developing a Theory of Integrity knows that these guys have chops to spare when it comes to writing great songs. They match these catchy anthems with something akin to early Against Me! arrangements, stabbing strums and a penchant for gang vocals; a tightly wound three-piece with fantastic songs—what’s not to love?
Get it Together is a continuation of all the most important aspects of MakeWar. Their Latin American identity is put front and center, with two songs in Spanish sung by bassist Edwin. The first of them, “No Mas,” is a melodic hardcore rager with a staccato machine-gun vocal rhythm that rattles off Spanish with an ear-pleasing fluidity. This thread is also continued by “Hands on the Tyrant,” one of the most striking and personal songs on the album, directly addressing singer Jose Prieto’s native Venezuela. Both these songs and others feel like a more active engagement with their identity than the anthems on their last record, while still supplying hooks aplenty. For my money, perspective is one of the most important attributes of great songwriting, and here, it’s put front and center.
The heart-on-the-sleeve introspection, however, is still one of the band’s most powerful motors, brought forth into the Fat Wreck era by album opener “Hopeless Dreamer.” The song is propelled by chugging guitars and some killer backing vocals. The lyrics range from aspirational to slice-of-life conversational (“Is it cool if I close my eyes just for a bit?”); just as ever, they’re relatable and hard-hitting, the sort of stuff you can feel falling off your tongue from the first time you hear it.
MakeWar has always had a loud, brash, aspirational center indebted to the best of punk’s rhetoric. And in a world where it’s harder than ever to be an artist, this is not only charming, but admirable. “Oh, Brother” is an ode to a life lived in the punk scene, told as an all too familiar story. “Welcome to the world of punk, freaks and geeks and silly drugs,” begins the chorus. It’s a rallying cry, an ode to playing music in spite of all the constructs that make it near impossible. The bridge is perhaps one of the most emotionally powerful I’ve heard in recent years, a declaration to its listeners to embrace the grind, to create in endless defiance.
“Sails” matches this discontent with a fantasy of leaving the nine-to-five to sail around the world (in a parallel to “Sallie” from Developing a Theory of Integrity). It’s one of the best songs on the album, undoubtedly one of the catchiest. While the subject matter has been tread before, the tone is more ethereal, feeling like a daydream brought to life, something that the lighter guitars on this album bring to a more fully realized cohesion.
In the case of “Sails,” the lighter sounds on Get it Together help sell the content of the song. But other times, it feels like perfunctory growth. MakeWar has an album full of great songs, and a lot of them will come to define the band, I truly believe that. But, I can’t help but feel their sound was more impactful on their last outing. Before, they had that jittery, crunchy intensity that really fed into that sing-your-lungs-out, emotional punk aesthetic. Here, the goods still survive with a slicker package, but I’m often left with the question: why? There’s more treble, there’s more reverb, and sometimes a spare effects pedal is thrown into the mix—but for the most part, it doesn’t do much to develop the band’s sound in any notable way. It feels like a new coat of paint for the sake of painting, an affectation rooted more in their move to Fat Wreck than in the band’s core identity. Get it Together is a great album, but sonically, it sounds like a band developing in the most usual way.
Luckily, while the production seldom adds much, it doesn’t take away much either, leaving me only with a couple of gripes to go with a handful of new favorite songs. In my mind, it’s a fair trade. Get it Together is MakeWar doing everything they did great on the last album, and now doing it better. What’s added to the mix this time is the band’s political content, which is exciting and illuminating across the board. They’ve embraced themselves to a greater degree than ever, and in that, they’ve codified their identity as artists and musicians.