Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Call Fives: Pop Punk's Awakening

It's interesting that Yellowcard released the lyric video for their new song "My Awakening" in the same week that I Call Fives released their debut album. Yellowcard's song longs for the awakening that I call Fives self-titled album arguably is.

In the song "Stuck in 03," I Call Fives situate themselves among Yellowcard's peers in the golden era of pop punk and then move beyond it. Fall Out Boy, The Ataris, New Found Glory, these are the bands (among others) that carried the genre to mainstream recognizability and attained that balance between vulnerability and aggression. This new-generation pop punk band accomplishes the latter before transitioning into happiness and hope, setting itself up for a possibility of the former.

The most compelling piece of the craftsmanship here is the lyrics. Each song has a way of discussing typical topics as if they were new again while making you feel as if it was written exactly for you. What follows is a list of the album's tracks with their most poignant lyrical excerpts and an explanation as to why those words were chosen.

1. Late Nights

"If I don't hear from you by two AM
I can assume that you found something better to do
I can't depend on you to leave me anything but all alone and empty
I'm sorry you're not sorry
And if you think I'm going to let this slide
You've got another thing coming
Aren't you tired of running?"

The opening two lines tells us what's at stake here, what's always at stake--uninformed abandonment. Drew Conte, the singer, has to figure out for himself, not by being informed by the person he desires, that she's not going to spend time with him, likely in favor of something better than him. It's instant identifiable vulnerability. The verse I've selected jumps into the aggression. Conte explicitly names the girl's faults, and they're all too conventional. Not only does she run, she doesn't express any empathetic understanding concerning her disappearance. Most important, and aggressive, of all, we find out why Conte is singing and why we're listening to him--he's not going to let this slide.

2. Obvious

"Can't get this bad taste out of my mouth
I'm lost in something and I've gotta get out
I should have seen this coming
Still stuck and left with nothing

I'd have to climb into a casket to get as low as you just went
I'm sick of giving into something (Is this the best that I can get?)
When it all comes down to the facts you can't admit when you're wrong
When it all comes down to the facts you can't admit when you're wrong"

What always follows the girl's cold departure is your bemoaning of your own lack of foresight. The title of the tune echoes Good Charlotte's single "Typical," a song with a similar story. After showing where the pain is coming from--inability to escape the situation--Conte croons one of the best lines on the record: "I'd have to climb into a casket to get as low as you just went." The words and their delivery are reminiscent of Andrew McMahon's Something Corporate days. Then, the aggression returns. He just wants to hear her accept responsibility for her actions. (Spoiler: She won't.)

3. Backup Plan

"So let me tell you a story of how it all began
You're fake, fucked, and boring
The same as all your friends
The same as all your friends
And while you stand there a walking bad habit
I'm moving on again cause I've had it

Don't make a sound
(Don't make a sound)
Cause you were another one that just kept me around
And I don't think that I can stand
Knowing I was a backup plan
And I told you once before
I don't want to feel that way anymore
So I'll let you go
And give it everything I've got to never come back home"

The aggression continues as Conte starts naming the girl's faults and reasserting his desire to escape. The opening verse ends with a strong rhyming couplet that captures those two elements. The chorus than proclaims the purpose of the aggression--the escape from the pain. That is where the vulnerability is tucked away in this track: "And I don't think I can stand/Knowing I was a backup plan."

4. The Fall Guy

"You make me miserable
Sometimes its more than I can take
I hope you're comfortable
Just watching as you throw your life away
I'm not sorry for a word I said
I'm not sorry for a word I said
I'm not sorry for a word I said
I'm not sorry"

What would pop punk aggression be without righteous indignation? The line that sticks in your head here is "I'm not sorry for a word I said." The aggression is not only about getting out, but (pro)claiming your self esteem. Handguns uses this theme almost exclusively. We also see Conte's need to apply his own judgment of the world on the girl's. Is it right to do that? I don't know. The point is, he's not going to allow his judgment to be ignored or derided.

5. Stuck in 03

"So finally I'm starting to see how little you think of me and it hurts
Couldn't care less but it couldn't be worse

I'm used to being bloody, broken down and beaten
I can show you all the scars that you've been leaving
Its plain to see there's nothing left between you and me
Useless memories
You're so wrong"

For the song that demonstrates the tone and content of an entire era of pop punk, you only need to look at the pre-chorus and the chorus. The focus here is vulnerability. Conte is grasping the reality of the situation and his response is a vintage I Call Fives line: "Couldn't care less but it couldn't be worse." This is where pop punk, and this new generation of bands in particular, excels. The point of identifying the pain is to move beyond it to happiness, not to revel in it and let it destroy you. That is what this song does. It transitions from the pain to the plain explicit condemnation of its cause.

6. Enemy

"Sometimes you just can't win
I'm more than happy to not fit in (with your friends)
I hope you don't make it home
Someday that you'll face it
Cause the world doesn't spin for you"

These short 42 seconds are a turning point in the album. The idea here is acceptance--accepting the way the world is for him and observing that the other person doesn't accept the way the world is.

7. Wrong Things

"Our chance is never gone

Keep moving on and on
I'm chasing my dreams
I'm settling for nothing
(On and on and it's the same old songs that hope for nothing)
You won't have to wait for me
Don't wait for, don't wait for me
I'll end this hopeless mentality"

What feels like the second half of the story kicks off with further transition. The vulnerability is still there, but it's focus has shifted to another p--positivity. Conte no longer wants to accept nothing. The backup vocals point out the overwhelming hope for nothing that exists conventionally. These guys understand that "hope for nothing" is actually hopelessness. THOSE are the "wrong things" they've been focusing on. It's almost enough to make me think this band is intentionally writing a critique of pop punk.

8. Two Sides To Every Story

"I hope this finds you
I hope this finds you well
Its just so hard to
To separate the truth
So when you feel like talking down to me
Just know that I can't hear you and I'm not listening
I'm not listening"

What, the lyrics of a pop punk song express empathy for the person of the singer's affection? This is a departure from "classic" pop punk and more recent songs such as "I Hope He Kills You" by Handguns. The important idea in this song though is the two stories and how Conte is still able to differentiate his from the other. The negativity has been tuned out.

9. We Were Right Together And We Were Wrong Together

"Long story short we can see right through you
You don't know what you've gotten yourself into now

Its hard to make amends when you turn your back on your friends"

Why isn't Conte listening? Because they all finally see through the bullshit. The empathy hasn't disappeared though. Within the context of the album, the line "Its hard to make amends when you turn your back on your friends" comes across more understanding the accusatory, especially considering the stated ignorance of the other person. Yes, this is clearly a different breed of pop punk.

10. Regrets and Setbacks

"I've been dwelling on my weakness, and it's been getting to me
How long can this go on?
Come to terms with the fact that you can't go back
There's always something to hold you down if you won't get off the ground

When you don't know which way to go
When you feel like you've lost all hope
Don't give up
Don't give anything to those thoughts in your mind
Get over saying sorry for overthinking all the time
Someday, you'll see how easy it is to forget
The ones not worth remembering in the first place"

This entire song is so good that it was difficult to omit any of it. Instead what I focused on was the further channeling of vulnerability. This is about how to find that hope, that positivity, within the pain in a manner reminiscent of City Lights' "Where You've Been." You can't dwell on your weakness. You can't validate those debilitating thoughts, even through guilt for having them. If you don't, you'll someday see the past and its scars fade away.

11. Sleep Well

"You're a mess and you're alone this time
The world is moving and you're what's left behind
And every word I ever wrote in every song
I let them go with you they're buried deep and gone
Sleep well tonight
Sleep well tonight
Cause when your lies catch up to you
You know there's nothing I can do but pull the knife in my back and give it back to you

And while your eyes are closed I'll tell everyone so you're exposed
The bright light creeping through the crack in the dark
You can't stop whats next in store"

Once again, it was really hard to not simply paste the lyrics from the entire song here. Instead I tried to focus on the answer to the question that "Regrets and Setbacks" raises. How do you not validate those debilitating thoughts? The answer is surprising, at least for this genre: justice. Justice, in essence, is treating people as they deserved to be treated. Here we see Conte treating himself well (he's letting go of the pain and the words he wrote about them) and treating the object of his desire as a danger (refusing sympathy in a dark moment and warning everyone else).

What drives a lot of the anger and resentment of youth and genres of music such as pop punk is the feeling that the world is unjust and we are helpless to do anything about it. By focusing our attention on the way we interact with others, rather than the things we do (as is mentioned in "Wrong Things"), I Call Fives highlights an important source of that feeling of helplessness. Justice must begin in your interpersonal relationships. You must respond to other people with the treatment they have earned, otherwise you'll begin to feel like your thoughts and emotions are being ignored by everyone else when really they're only being ignored by yourself. In other words, justice is the only way to make sure you stay awake.

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