Oh, pop punk. The ever fruitful, constantly thriving genre that’s loved by everyone. Well, nearly everyone. There’s probably a few dudes scattered about that wear leather jackets with Slayer patches on them that listen to nothing but 80’s thrash metal. But I reckon even a few of them occasionally find themselves getting lost in the fun, upbeat and downright infectious vibes that oozes out of pop punk. Even the most metal of metallers can’t resist a good chorus (not scientifically proven). The genre is gradually becoming harder and harder to ignore, as the number of bands breaking through is rising all the time. One of those bands, in recent years, has been Knuckle Puck.
Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, they’ve been picking up momentum since the release of their first EP back in 2011 and have been constantly releasing music ever since. They even released a split EP with pop punk heavyweights Neck Deep a few years back. Fans eagerly awaited their debut full length Copacetic, and it was greeted with open arms and received strong reviews across the board. 2 years have passed, and now they’ve got a new record. That record is Shapeshifter. And I’ve checked it out.
This album definitely sounds similar to Copacetic, but it comes across as a much more sophisticated and grown up affair. Everything is far more refined and thought through, especially in regards to the songwriting. It’s immediately evident in the somber album opener Nervous Passenger, a soft and delicate introduction to the new Knuckle Puck. This is followed by tracks like Twist and Gone that clearly showcase that they’ve written a more mature album, but still flaunt that energetic and captivating sound that made them so popular in the first place. They keep the energy flowing in the first half of the album. The distorted ramblings of Everyone Lies To Me creates an urge to head bang that’s impossible to ignore, and the enormous catchy riff of Stuck In Our Ways screams at you through the speakers, demanding to be loved. Once it reaches back end of the album, however, things begin to slow down and mellow out in a big way. Not in a bad way, mind. It still sounds like the rest of the album, just a bit more stripped back and heartfelt. Want Me Around is still laden with the usual bouncy riffs and hummable vocal melodies, but also boasts some really passionately delivered vocal trade-offs and has a real radio-friendly vibe. Wait is like the musical version of a stream, effortlessly flowing in and out of gigantic choruses and heartbreaking verses. The stand out track for me, though, is the albums closer Plastic Brains. It slowly but surely builds suspense, introducing more instruments and layers until exploding into an enormous singalong chorus. The vocal melodies throughout are tasteful, well written and immediately memorable, as well as lyrically being very poignant and thought provoking. The lyrics across the entire record are like that to be honest, and I found myself really connecting with some of the messages contained within it. All in all, Shapeshifter really shows how far they’ve come as a band, but also clearly demonstrates that their roots remain firmly planted where they’ve always been. Pop punk. Home.
Despite the name of the album, this record isn’t a complete reinvention of the band at all. Not by any means. It’s more of a slight adjustment than a shapeshift. Everything that we’ve come to know and love about Knuckle Puck is still audible, but now there’s a lot more attention to detail. They already had heart, and they already flaunted their ability to cram emotion into their songs. But now, it somehow feels more genuine. In a way I guess that makes it easier for us to connect with. This album isn’t missing anything, everything I expected to hear is there. It’s just been presented in a slightly different way. Shapeshifter displays a more authentic, more introspective and musically tighter incarnation of the band. I reckon they’re just going to go from strength to strength. If you like pop punk with a real heartfelt undertone, much like Real Friends, you’ll love this record and you’ll love this band. You’ll also like it if you hate your hometown, your ex-girlfriend/boyfriend and people that don’t like pizza. Get on board.