Pop-punk has always been a deeply problematic genre. More than just about any other style of music that gained significant attention throughout the last decade and a half, pop-punk seemed to get too hung up on its own hallmarks. Elongated vowels, clichéd lyrics about love and heartbreak, a certain amount of bombast, and a total unwillingness to say- or attempt- something new. If anyone broke from the tried-and-true mold, they stuck out like a sore thumb- and became all the more interesting for it. Enter: The Frankl Project. Their most recent full-length, 2013’s excellent Standards, was one of that year’s best surprises thanks to an emphasis on grit and humility unheard elsewhere. All of the songs on that record were backed up by intelligence and conviction- and an ample amount of instrumental chops. It was an inward look at very specific types of collapse that never became overwrought or overstepped its bounds. By the time its dozen songs had played themselves out, it was fairly evident that it deserved to be embraced as either a genre classic or a very welcome step forward for a style that’d become so redundant.
Last month, during this site’s festival coverage period, the Cincinatti trio quietly released Little Wrecking Ball, an online-only two-song effort. While the title track works well as a lead-off (and on its own), it’s the second song of the pair that steals the show. Everything that made Standards so great has been pinpointed and emphasized, leaving no doubt that the band should be heading places. Furthering this theory is the fact that “Day at the Races” was recently hand-picked by Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace to lead off the unsigned side of Xtra Mile Recordings fascinating (and absolutely vital) Smokin’ (Signed vs. Unsigned) compilation. It’s easy to see what Grace finds so appealing here; the guitar tones are incendiary, the song structure is intelligent, the instrumental sections are uniformly excellent, the down-trodden lyrics are clever but contained, and the drop to half-time that closes everything out at the end is a thing of perfection. Moreover, when guitarist/vocalist Jacob Tippey sings, and this is key, it’s difficult not to believe everything he says. Tippey’s delivery is as purposeful as the music itself and pairing the two together makes for an explosive combination. Underneath his impassioned delivery, a menacing bassline (courtesy of Paul Schroder, who took the extraordinary shot that serves as the release’s cover) is joined by Joseph Frankl’s always-impressive drumming and Tippey’s inventive, meldoy-heavy guitarwork. All of those elements together make for a molotov cocktail of a tune that proves pop-punk can still be something worth listening to.
Listen to “Day at the Races” below and make sure to catch these guys next time they hit the road- their live act’s not one worth missing.