If any band in the year 2016 represents the true spirit of rock and roll, it’s definitely PUP. From their now-infamous “we quit our jobs and toured ourselves to death” origin story to vocalist Stefan Babcock destroying his vocal cords after one too many gigs (and refusing to slow down despite his doctor’s now-titular statement of defeat), the lifestyle and creative niche they’ve created for themselves revolves around two core principles — make kickass music and play it for as many people as possible.
Since they formed in 2013, the band has put it all on the line time and time again to ensure that those two goals are upheld to the fullest extent. In fact, PUP’s music feels less like carefully crafted art and more like an excuse to get back on the road. They did, after all, play over 200 shows in just their second year as a band, pushing themselves to their physical and mental limits just for the sake of losing their minds on stage for as many nights as they could.
“If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” the leadoff track on the band’s sophomore LP The Dream Is Over, is the logical artistic conclusion of the lifestyle they’ve chosen for themselves. Living in a van with the same people for months at a time is enough to push even the most passionate musicians past the point of simple passive aggression, and Babcock’s trademark yell-singing pushes the straightforward lyrical content into the stratosphere. “Every goddamn syllable / That you say makes me wanna gouge out my eyes with a power drill,” he sarcastically sings, setting the tone for a record that’s more about the overall vibe of the music than dense lyricism. PUP are without a doubt a very sharp group of people, and Babcock can certainly turn the clever dryness up to 11 if need be — but he prefers to hang back and let the wailing of the guitars and his voice do the talking.
That particular creative decision defines exactly what PUP does well. They make music that works best as a complete product, a speeding freight train of rocking aggression and addictive melody that hits the listener right in the face. Take “Old Wounds,” one of the more to-the-point moments on the album, for example. Punchy power chords and screeching feedback mix at the same level as Babcock’s pissed off rasp, combining forces to create something far more powerful than the sum of its parts. It’s more than just an angry breakup song — how the track sounds as a whole, rather than just the lyrical content, encapsulates the feeling of wanting to yell in an ex’s face. PUP uses the style of music they play as a vehicle for their emotions, and isn’t that what rock and roll’s all about?
Of course, none of this would work as splendidly as it does if the songwriting and musicianship weren’t as on point as they are. Their name may stand for Pathetic Use of Potential, but the band certainly isn’t being lazy with their obvious wealth of talent here. Tracks like “Doubts” and “Can’t Win” don’t seem too complex on the surface, but more careful ears will detect precise, time signature-hopping guitar work and a rhythm section that expertly stays on top of the groove at all times. As a result, none of the songs feel truly straightforward — there’s always a fun, creative edge lurking beneath the surface.
That edge is what really keeps The Dream Is Over rollicking forward. Anyone can throw together a couple of chord progressions with their friends in a basement, but PUP’s combination of true passion for their craft and instrumental prowess keep their music feeling ahead of the pack in more ways than one. Sure, it may not exactly be revolutionary or add anything new to the formula they laid out for themselves on their first record, but who cares? Music that feels this genuine and fun is hard to come by, and we deserve to enjoy it.
Rock/Punk | SideOneDummy Records