Pop punk is a bit of a dirty word. Depending on whom you ask, this current generation of pop punk is either absolutely brilliant or complete nonsense. For those who have grown up with the likes of The Wonder Years, The Story So Far, and All Time Low, new pop punk is just as exciting as it was 10 to 15 years ago. But for those who grew up listening to Blink-182, New Found Glory, and the rest of the so-called “pop punk renaissance” groups, pop punk’s current existence has been tainted by its own survival.
Whether you like it or not, 2010’s pop punk has developed a life of its own. While the late 90’s & early 2000’s were periods of great prosperity and success for pop punk, the 2010’s have been a time of preservation and protection of the genre. With mantras like “Defend Pop Punk” and “Pop Punk’s Not Dead” dominating the genre, pop punk is looking to keep itself afloat, and it seems to be working. Take Forever Came Calling for example. From their start selling CDs in line during the Vans Warped Tour, this band has made it to their second studio album, What Matters Most. For fans of pop punk, this record is a prime example of what genre’s current generation is all about and a true definition of what it means to defend pop punk.
While the band’s debut album, Contender, is a furious pop punk attack, What Matters Most is a much more powerful punch. Each of the album’s eleven songs contributes in some way to the record as a whole. Rather than keeping the songs short and sweet to avoid filler, the band decided to just avoid filler all together. All of the songs have their own identity, which is especially noticeable on the record’s “more mature” second half. There’s “Indebted”, with its energy-filled chorus, “Rather Be Dead Than Cool”, which feels like a lighter fare from A Day to Remember, and “Angel in the Closet”, the anthemic closer, that, when combined with the first half’s targeted pop punk attack, differentiates What Matters Most from a common record in the scene.
Yes, the album does conform to a few genre conventions, including the dreaded acoustic song, but the results aren’t typical of a pop punk band. In the middle of the record is “Endangered Innocence”, a culmination of the band’s lighter influences that have developed since Contender. Lead singer Joe Candelaria brings out his inner Ace Enders on this track as he sings about the death of innocence, as the “quiet reservations” of his youth were torn down by love. As the strings’ crescendos build behind him, it is clear that Forever Came Calling aren’t here to do their same old tricks. From the “hallelujah” harmonies on “Spanish Mother’s (I Just Miss)”, to the isolated “you don’t speak for me, you don’t dream for me” yell that closes out “Mapping With a Sense of Direction”, What Matters Most is filled with moments you wouldn’t expect your run-of-the-mill pop punk band to pull off as well as Forever Came Calling do here.
Forever Came Calling could have easily cranked out another album of high octane and high-energy punk songs. They probably could have gotten away with it too, because it is what we have grown to expect from these guys. However, this band is not interested in satisfying expectations. They want to create new ones. With What Matters Most, Forever Came Calling hone in on their songwriting abilities. They don’t abandon the classic pop punk thrills that they pull off well, but this record is filled with great and new material that we haven’t seen from the band before. Some of this “maturity” may feel a little juvenile, but on this record, the band has managed to move the genre forward without losing it completely. It is a happy medium between ambition and execution: the very mold that holds pop punk together. Forever Came Calling isn’t your average pop punk band, and What Matters Most tells us exactly why.