Talkhouse Contributing Writer Zachary Lipez is the former singer for Freshkills and the current singer of Publicist UK. He writes the “Adult Problems” column for Noisey/VICE. He also contributes to Hazlitt, MySpace, and Vol.1 Brooklyn. His most recent book, with Nick Zinner and Stacey Wakefield, is Please Take Me Off the Guest List (Akashic Books, 2010). He tends bar at 124 Rabbit Club. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Is there a genre of music more beautiful and widely detested than pop-punk? Sentimental, sappy and often sexist, pop-punk is power-pop for adolescents, punk stripped of aggression, a good rock song played too fast; if emo is “unsubtle goth” then pop-punk is unsubtle goth performed by the developmentally challenged. If punk was a screamed “no,” than pop-punk is a nasally “whyyyyyy not?” (Also known as “Why don’t you like me?” or “Why can’t I touch it?” or “What’s this button do?”) Often accompanied by a petulant foot-stomp and stolen roses. Despite, or maybe because of, its Scrappy-Doo relationship to its older (or at least arguably marginally smarter) siblings in punk, goth and hardcore, I love pop-punk without reservation. A genre that is so huge and all-encompassing that it contains both multitudes and suckitudes, the diamonds in the rough are that much shinier for the dross that surrounds them. From the sublime angst of the Buzzcocks, the ragged soul of Big Eyes, to the newly canonized, for no other reason than the critics who were 11 when they were popular are now tastemakers, Blink-182; we use pop-punk as a term for slightly aggressive, slightly pretty guitar-rock because “punk” is as useful a term as “hipster,” and “rock” is as useful a concept as 3 Doors Down.
Pop-punk is handy because, in its expansiveness, your idea of it is as valid is mine. For you, it’s Saves the Day and Blink-182 and All Time Low and a million other bands that I honestly couldn’t differentiate even if there was a gun to my head. To me, it’s Pegboy, the Muffs, the Angus and Clueless soundtracks, the first two Green Day albums, the Marked Men and, now… the Love Triangle.
I mention the Marked Men, Mark Ryan’s Denton, Texas outfit that made four perfect pop-punk albums before breaking up, in the same breath as the Love Triangle because they are carved from the same template. In the way that pre-bloat the Who took r&b and made it fast and hard and palatable to young white thugs, bands like the Marked Men and the Love Triangle take the Jam and the better garage bands and strip it down, make it cleaner and more efficient and lose the infernal reverb while never falling for the temptations of overproduction that so many of the Warped Tour pop-punkers did. Both bands are often called “garage-punk” rather than “pop-punk” but I think that has more to do with the current belief that pop-punk is the territory of frat boys with beards and neck tattoos and therefore a designation to be studiously avoided rather than what the bands actually sound like. Tomayto/tomahto though. This is not rock surgery and I am not a rock doctor: You can put whatever you like before the “hyphen, punk” and I’m going to be equally excited. I realize that there are those out there who would strenuously disagree with the “pop-punk” designation, and I understand even more that there are, sadly, vast swathes of humanity who don’t know or care about the words we place before “punk” or “core.” I know, I know, I don’t necessarily understand these people either, but I’m trying to, as they say, cross the aisle. Just don’t, for the love all that’s good and decent, call it steam- or sea-punk. There are limits, goddamnit.
The Love Triangle is a new UK band made up of ex-members of Scepters, whom I loved, and the Shitty Limits, whom, being a bit too garage and not enough pop for my delicate sensibilities, I didn’t. There is still a garage-rock sensibility to the new band on their debut Clever Clever but now the choruses are less brute force placeholders between verses and more doing the two things choruses are supposed to do; give you something to sing right when you get the rest of the song wrong and give you something to mutter to yourself while staring out the window while your partner drives and tries to tell you something “really important.”
There are overt nods to the New York Dolls in some songs and Love’s “7 and 7 Is” is a useful touchstone. I feel like I hear some Adverts but that may be because I like the record and I love the Adverts and I want them all to be friends. I won’t pretend to know what the singer of the Love Triangle is singing about most of the time (I only understand NYHC accents), but he seems mainly concerned with sex and death, so he at least knows what’s up. Only one song clocks in over three minutes. That used to be a handy hint to quality, but ever since grindcore and a million sub-Guided by Voices bands descended into speed and shortness of song for its own sake/kitsch, brevity is no longer a positive quality unto itself. But the Love Triangle understand bands like Wire’s initial impulse; “Is the song done? Did we say what we wanted to say with economy and aplomb? Great, then let’s stop playing it.”
While it neatly fits into a number of musical pigeonholes if you’re so inclined (I’d have to see the members’ haircuts to know which one for sure) Clever Clever is the spirit of pop-punk at its best. Tuneful adolescent grievance played just fast enough that boring rockers wouldn’t like it. Or maybe they would; what the fuck do I know and why should I limit the Love Triangle’s commercial opportunities on the internet? I may be unhealthily obsessed with genre subdivisions but, really, if you haven’t given up on guitar rock entirely (and nobody over here is blaming you if you have, btw) then you’ll dig this record as much as I do.
And, oh yeah, don’t forget to buy it. Like, with money. Thanks.