My first introduction to Portland, Oregon’s Broadway Calls came in 2009 when I saw them open up for ska-punk giants Streetlight Manifesto. At the time I felt ambivalent about the band and was really just waiting to see Streetlight, who were and still are my favorite band. However, I distinctly remember a select group of 20 fans who lined the barrier in the front during Broadway Calls’ set, singing along with every lyric and feeding off the three-piece’s energy and consummate showmanship. Retrospectively, with their new album Comfort/Distraction, I can see why Broadway Calls garnered such a fervent response from the audience that night. In many ways their latest effort illustrates just how much they’ve progressed since that show four years ago.
The album opens with an ominous track titled “Bring On the Storm,” which serves as a perfect introduction to a forceful punk album that in many ways parallels the twists and turns of a tempest. As if to preface the album with its own slogan, this song features the undeniably catchy chorus of “Shut down America and bring on the storm!” This line screams for listeners to take notice.
As I listened to Comfort/Distraction one theme began to emerge from every song, as diverse as they were – that theme being Ty Vaughn’s instinctual ability to write punk rock anthems with the slightest dash of pop thrown in. Every song on the album demonstrates the catchy yet abrasive nature of Vaughn’s songwriting, proving he hasn’t strayed far from classic punk roots.
After the opening track, the next few songs follow suit and establish themselves as pop-punk standards. However, it is on the sixth track “Zombie World” that the album begins to feel like something genuinely special. Vaughn shows his lyrical maturation from previous albums with lines on the track such as “our friends are saints / but they’re all toxic train-wrecks.” There is a certain emotional vulnerability and desperate urgency in Vaughn’s voice that gives ample credence to the words being sung, ultimately magnifying their impact.
The lead single “Lucky Lighter” finishes off the 1-2 punch started by “Zombie World,” combining a laid-back drumbeat and a simple chord progression with instances of searing guitar work. Furthermore the band continues their theme of desperation, tingeing the song with an ambiguous sense of melancholia that fits its slower nature.
Transitioning into the latter end of the album is “Wildly Swinging,” which juxtaposes its fast, up-tempo and slightly sardonic feel with the more ballad-esque nature of the previous song. However, “I’ll Be There” follows “Wildly Swinging” and knocks it clear out of the water (not to say the songs are competing with themselves in any way). “I’ll Be There” portraits the struggles of a mother and her kids, presenting a vivid picture of the struggles of real-life America with such lines as “I want to see you break free / I want to see you succeed / I want to prove to you life can be a beautiful thing.” Although the album up to this point expounds feelings of desperation, being lost, and general nostalgia, this track moves these ideas forward into the realm of hope. “I’ll Be There” represents a distinct turn in the progression of the album, setting the stage for the much more positive songs that close the record.
“Life Is Rhythm” starts with a bang and keeps a blistering pace throughout its less than two-minute span. However, the high point of the album comes immediately after during “Stealing Sailboats,” which defines the entire record. The song begins with another classic Vaughn line: “Pick me up, ‘cause I’m broken. / I’ve got rust creaking through my veins” and continues to become a near-perfect pop-punk anthem that genuinely hits home.
And if it weren’t coincidental enough, the album ends on a distinctly hopeful note with the song “Full of Hope” that drips with hints of a desperate hope for a better future. This song perfectly represents the fragile dichotomy Vaughn and company have worked hard to present with Comfort/Distraction, reconciling feelings of loss and emptiness with a more optimistic view of better days to come.