As far as middle-of-the-road, adolescent pop punk goes, Hit the Lights has more or less established themselves as the archetypical poster boys. Spending most of their career at the halfway point between underground, cult status, and mainstream acceptance, the Ohio group has never really captured the wave of teenage fans that everyone from Boys Like Girls to Cartel have found, but they have tried their best, and succeeded to some degree.
Going from pretty boy appeal on their earlier work, to calling upon Mike Sapone in an attempt to create a new brand of Earth-shattering pop punk, Hit the Lights have tried to capitalize on their strident musical ambition and idealistic view of the genre. The band looked to take things back to square one on Summer Bones, signing with independent stalwarts Pure Noise Records, and shifting towards a no-frills, pop punk attack. One may struggle to find much depth to it, but Summer Bones is a short and sweet record that encapsulates pop punk, if that means anything at all.
On Invicta, Hit the Lights attempted to try something new and exciting, and while it didn’t totally bomb in this respect, as it was a pretty solid record, it was too uneven and stale to say that it lived up to the hype. Three years later, it is as if this phase of their career never happened, as Summer Bones is a quick pill to swallow. The big, powerful choruses inspired by Angels and Airwaves have turned into youthful pop punk exuberance. Taking cues from the new generation of bands like Major League, Man Overboard, and Four Year Strong, Summer Bones makes itself out to be a soldier in the war to “Defend Pop Punk”. It’s less centered on glossy production and heartthrob status as it is on making songs that are undoubtedly punk in spirit, but easy to digest.
There’s no shortage of energy here, as the group sounds fresh and rejuvenated, channeling the youthful luster and excitement behind their sound. It’s pretty straightforward, as the record feels and sounds like a thesis statement for pop punk. There aren’t any radical departures from the quick set of short, fast-paced songs, complete with sunny choruses, intense interplay between guitar and percussion, and the occasional “whoa-oh” or breakdown. Vocalist Nick Thompson carries himself with a very melodic focus, not yelling gratuitously, and the band is able to navigate the waters from hardcore intensity, like on “Revolutions and Executions”, to cookie cutter pop punk goodness on “Fucked Up Kids”.
Early on, Summer Bones jumps right into the motions of pop punk, and doesn’t really try to hold back, with the first three songs all clocking in under three minutes. Besides the opener, “Fucked Up Kids”, it can take some time for each song to show itself, as they all feel very safe and rudimentary. While there are hints of greater intricacy and experimentation, it isn’t until the heart of the record that we find the band looking forward. “Summer Bones” is a mix of the typical pop punk ballad, and mature, Listen and Forgive-esque guitars. It isn’t very big on its own, but compared to the rest of the record, “Summer Bones” manages to set itself apart from the rest of the album, as the band sounds confident and sophisticated.
However, while Summer Bones doesn’t try to change the pop punk game, it is this focus towards doing the genre justice that sells it short. The band’s choice to play to the ears of the new pop punk kids isn’t a bad one, but it brings with it the limitations associated with the genre. Bands like The Story So Far and Handguns can capture the attention of teenagers and young adults in succinct doses, but even at 26 minutes, Summer Bones stretches itself too thin. It provides for a rush of pop punk and everything associated with it, but not much beyond that. There isn’t anything particularly memorable, and while there is certainly enjoyable, it feels like Hit the Lights hits the same nails again and again, which prevents them from making an album that does something special. Instead, we get a crop of songs from a band doing what they do, which isn’t bad, but just nothing to write home about.