Oh, pop punk. Dearest friend, cruelest enemy, my poison, my mainstay, my first love and my mistress still. I’ve been writing almost a month and still have yet to disclose the nature of our relationship to the people.
The first time I heard “What’s My Age Again?” I was slain. It was hands down the catchiest song I’d ever heard. I probably should’ve been put off by how much of my mom’s old “Boston” records I heard in it, but, alas, I was too young to recognize cheese. Doesn’t matter. Even if I had I don’t know if it would’ve made a damn bit of difference. Anthony Bourdain craves his street food, I crave those double time drums, shouted vocals and pogo pits (also, Troma movies and gummi bears – but that’s a blog for another time).
This craving lead me to NOFX, Green Day, Bad Religion, Lagwagon, New Found Glory, Jawbreaker, upward and onward into the early ‘aughts, emo, and acne. Now I’m twenty-four and my horizons are broad, but I’m always looking for my new fix.
Enter Half Hearted Hero. Right off the bat: minor quibble, but they’re losing points for the name. I know, picky, picky, but c’mon- it kinda sounds like they’re playing a high school talent show, and nothing could be further from the truth.
How this band is not buzzed into space by now is one of the great mysteries of our time. Did aliens crash at Roswell? Where’s Jimmy Hoffa? Who cares. The real question is why haven’t we given these dudes the pop-punk crown and a nice big steak.
I know, I know, we’re in the midst of a pop-punk renaissance, what with The Wonder Years, Yellowcard, Man Overboard, Set Your Goals, Four Year Strong, and maybe even Blink (!) releasing albums at some point this year, there’s a lot of strong competition. Many of these artists bring a fresh musical perspective to a tired genre, infusing it with elements from hardcore or indie (similar to what’s happening in rap, though there’s a good argument that rap itself never really got tired – just its hitmakers), but for my money, no one’s doing it as well as Half Hearted Hero.
Their new EP, Running Water, blasts through six tracks on the back of necksnapping drums and splintery, complex guitar leads, all held to earth by bass playing cast in concrete. It’s a cocktail of Rufio’s intricate catchiness cut with Moneen’s passion and earthy emotion. The back-to-back bullets of tracks four and five – “The Wheels” and “Mirrors” – capture the best of what HHH brings to the table.
“The Wheels” opens with one of the most angular, pleasurably syncopated riffs I’ve heard all year and never lets up – though I don’t know which guitarist Clinton Lisboa or AJ Mills to thank. Vocalist Anthony Savino belts intelligent lyrics with passion (“Another empty page and I wonder what to lay upon it/Maybe an apology/A declaration of remorse”) and the acoustic outro lets the listener gulp some air before the band drops the mammoth jam that is “Mirrors.”
If Blink 182 are the big, shiny, mindless Michael Bay of pop-punk, Half Hearted Hero are Werner Herzog, blazing headlong into the wilderness with a passionate cry. Call bullshit on the genre if you want, but turn this track up – even on some cheap headphones – and try not to get lost in the first twenty seconds. The climbing riff, the pulverizing stomp of the kick twelve seconds in: it’s heavy music for light people. The guitars don’t stop, but they never feel lost. Bands that play this technical style of pop-punk often find themselves careening through songs lead by a handful of guitar parts that are repeated ad-nausea. Not so much of that here –Lisboa and Mills play each note with precision and purpose, building on what came seconds before and driving the piece to one epic guitar solo and at least two climaxes.
Some would argue that this aversion to repetition will keep the band from crafting the hooks needed to get to the next level in their career. For pop radio that relies on an unwavering verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure (and let’s face it, leans rather heavily on the “chorus” part of that equation) that’s probably true, but there are moments in each song that will wrap around your brain and not let go – see the outro of “Five Points” or :25 into “Start Where You Are.”
Catchy as their peers? Maybe not. Bad name? Sure, but if those are the two biggest knocks against a band with this much skill, passion and intelligence they’re barely knocks at all. Wherever Half Hearted Hero go from here (barring “hiatus”) I’ll be following.
Buy the album here!
By: Chris Cullari | Beat-Play Ambassador Los Angeles | @ChriswithMWL|Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC