From the depths of the pop punk explosion that occurred between 2003 and 2005 came Punchline, a band that still finds themselves scratching their heads as to why they never achieved the level of popularity received by their peers. And who could blame them? They spent five years on Fueled by Ramen records, the label notorious for launching the career of Fall Out Boy, as well as the likes of Paramore and Panic! At the Disco. After two stellar releases (2004’s Action and 2006’s 37 Everywhere) that received almost no push from the label, the band became fed up and parted ways with FBR. Subsequently, they won $25,000 via a Heavy.com contest, founded their own “Media Label” called Modern Short Stories, and geared up to release their new album Just Say Yes themselves. I’d say leaving FBR was a good move.
Just Say Yes is a record that perpetually gives off a distinctive Punchline attitude despite the stretching out that the band does within its twelve tracks. Kicking off with “Ghostie,” an opener that is just as hyperactive musically as it is lyrically, the album gives the band a perfect introduction to this attitude with peppy but crushing guitars and sad but humorous lyrics (“you won’t forget those pictures/ I bet you a million dollars”). These words are read off with such breakneck speed and urgency that it is surprising that vocalist Steve Soboslai ever stops to repeat the chorus, as it seems he has much to say and not much time to say it. “The Hit” is just as the title suggests; it’s an insanely infectious song that can get a little cheesy at times (“my heart is on fire”).
Just as the listener begins to get bored with the catchy and energetic songs that the band is known for, the album shifts to show Punchline’s growth. The span from “Maybe I’m Wrong” to “Just Say Yes” shows advancements in every aspect from 37 Everywhere, from fresh piano-led songs (“Somewhere In The Dark”) to slow and pondering ballads (“Maybe I’m Wrong”).
The title track is the highlight of the album, with a pulsating bass beat (courtesy of Chris Fafalios) that carries the whole song, laced with synth and impressive vocals from Soboslai as he wonders “how was I supposed to know/ if the writing on the wall was so clear/ why couldn’t I read it?” Closer “Castaway” is stunningly beautiful and so descriptive in both the music and lyrics that the picture in the listener’s mind is clear. Soboslai really shows his range here, hitting the high notes with impressive ease as the listener almost floats in the delightfully airy song.
This change and growth is fantastic to see, and the best tracks on the album are the ones that showcase this progress. The problem with this is that the album does not quite feature enough of Punchline’s experimental side, instead trying to keep fans happy with more traditional songs such as “How Does This Happen?” and “My White Collared Shirt.” These cuts are good, but nowhere near as impressive.
Despite the inconsistent nature of Just Say Yes, the album succeeds in keeping the listener’s attention as it forays from infectious pop punk to interesting experimental pop, and shows that the band is adept at creating both sides of the spectrum. The album does not have one mediocre track, and its hooks still wiggle into the listener’s head often, even three years after its original release. So, as we hum the chorus to “The Hit,” I think we all are left scratching our heads as well, wondering why Punchline aren’t so much more popular than they are.