Pop-punk is a genre that I first got into due to the tongue-in-cheekiness of Relient K. This was during middle school, and I truly fell in love with the elements that made the genre great: pop melodies, speedy guitar riffs and an ecstatic, fun attitude. To this day, there is something about pop-punk that still enthralls me. So nearly six years since I was first introduced to the genre, I am apprised of a band named City Lights, and honestly, it makes these past six years worth it.
City Lights produces a sound that reminds me of A Day To Remember’s pop-punk side, but also inhabits an easycore vibe with loud guitars, profuse breakdowns, and vocals reminiscent of Jeremy McKinnon. Homesick being one of my favorite records of all time, I heard vast similarities in the overall mood and tempo of the music. And if there was any way to wrap up adolescence into an album, then City Lights’ cleverly named debut, In It To Win It, does just that.
Starting off with a baseball being hit with a bat and a crowd cheering, I could already feel the vibes of summer. It reminded me of the years of lore that I spent playing baseball as a child. The intro bursts out quickly with a huge guitar riff, which eventually turns into a flawless breakdown backed by gang vocals – a classic punk touch. It leads right into “Hang Out,” where Oshie Bichar’s McKinnon-esque vocals twist around the sparkling guitar melodies, producing a very happy musical environment. The chorus is catchy, aptly comparable to ADTR’s Homesick, while the overall caprice brings a New Found Glory-like spunk. And that’s just the first of many wonderfully catchy sing-alongs and energetic anthems. “Please Let Me Know” probably connects with me the best, with impinging lyrics “When we were kids / Things were so different / People didn’t spend all their time / Talkin’ s**t on the Internet” and “We spent all our time / Wishing we were older / But now we’re getting old / And it f***ing sucks.” The intro returns in the refrain, and the melodies come together to make an overall super catchy pop-punk song.
The grinding riff that opens “Trophy Room” is utterly fantastic. I was beyond speechless when it returned to envelop the track’s high-energy chorus. At this point, if I thought that “Please Let Me Know” or “Where You’ve Been” (perhaps one of the best songs of the year) hadn’t fully assured me that this was the best pop-punk release of the year, “Trophy Room” confirmed that feeling. The album follows with even more tightly woven tracks, including one of my personal favorites, “I Made A Song On Garage Band And All I Got Was This Stupid Record Deal,” wrapped up by powerful, speedy melodies, happy breakdowns and youthful angst. “Lawnmower” (of which the band also does an impeccable acoustic version) is one of the best-executed love songs of 2011; the lyrics are so relatable that pretty much anyone will be singing along by the second listen.
There is so much quality material within the boundaries of In It To Win It. I wish I could talk about every song in vivid detail, because every single track is a straight-up anthem, whether it’s because of the relationship anxiety of “My Entire Life” or the honest yet vexed emotions in “Please Let Me Know.” The Homesick-esque instrumentals are as solid as I’ve ever heard, and though the vocals use some voice correction, it’s not too grating. As Bichar sings in “I Made A Song…,” “it’s time for a changing of the guard.” In It To Win It is one of the most solid albums of 2011, and it definitely proves that City Lights’ time has come. Now I just can’t wait for summer so I can blast this in my car with the windows down.