When is pop-punk not pop-punk? When genre restraints are thrown out and tried and true tactics are used in new and interesting ways. Worriers is described by their own record label as pop-punk, but on Imaginary Life, Lauren Denitzio and her merry band of genre benders—including one Mikey Erg, mind you—have crafted a record that doesn’t redefine pop-punk, but defines itself as something that refuses to be defined.

With Laura Jane Grace at the helm, here are a few things you can expect right off the bat: This thing smacks with an Against Me! sonic aesthetic. A polished lo-fi crosspollination replete with tinny guitars and drums that sit nicely down in the mix. This refined grittiness is both in vogue and satisfying without sounding like the product of daisy-chained cassette decks. It’s produced just enough to sound professional and DIY all at once. It’s also evident that Grace lent her honed songwriting skills to the process as Denitzio, at times, hooks the end of a lyric in creative, but vaguely familiar ways. As all things go, there’s a baseline to everything. Grace’s influence draws that line, and Worriers plays jump rope with it.

The most fascinating part of Imaginary Life stems from the originality of its indie and punk- enriched music. Chalk it up to meticulous songwriting, pitch perfect production or their tendency to use everything from cowpunk to pop music as creative fodder, but there isn’t one particular element that makes the album work. Everything feels a bit static and free-flowing, allowing for a dip into pop-punk here, a wink at garage rock there. Ultimately it may just be an example of necessary elements that are more than just executed, but executed with such skill and patience that you can’t help but pay attention.

It’s hard not to be drawn in by the first few notes of “Jinx.” Short but sweet, it’s a tremendous little tune with quirky lyrics and an infectious vocal cadence. “Plans” and “Glutton for Distance” make the album an immediate candidate for a year-end top 10 list. Unfortunately it would be a Herculean feat to keep up with and match its early momentum. Under normal circumstances the middle section of Imaginary Life wouldn’t seem so middling, but they pale in comparison to the extremely high bar set by the opening and ending quarters.

Center standouts “Good Luck” and “Yes All Cops” pick up the slack a bit, but at this point the album has dropped to the only double digit numeral on your Top 10 List or even to the honorable mentions. By the last two tracks, “Most Space” and “Chasing,” the album is back to its early levels of fantastic. Imaginary Life is a fresh installment of punk-influenced music that’s not quite like anything you’ve heard before. The Worriers’ next effort may have the consistency this one lacks, but until then, here’s a solid album from a band that respects its genre enough to subvert it.

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