Toronto punks PUP make a name for themselves on their self-titled debut
I always think it’s an interesting decision when a band chooses to self-title an album. It’s kind of a bold move that feels like the group is trying to declare some sort of definitive statement about the band’s sound or aesthetic or “mission.” This probably (almost definitely) was not what the Canadian punk rock group PUP was thinking about when they named their SideOneDummy debut, which is set to be released in just a few weeks, but if there was ever a case where a self-titling an album was a really good idea, this has to be it, right?
To just try to describe PUP’s sound doesn’t do it justice. The easy way is to say something about how they blend the intensity and bombast of punk rock with the guitar-driven sense of melody found in the best power-pop bands. And that’s accurate, of course, but it also describes a lot of other bands that don’t really sound anything like PUP, and more importantly, it doesn’t really capture the spirit of PUP’s music.
At no point on PUP is the essence of the band’s sound captured more clearly and effectively than on the opening track, “Guilt Trip,” which begins with some menacing guitar feedback that launches into a scary hardcore riff. Quickly, though, the song’s primary lead guitar line shows up to add a bit of sugary pop-influence to the song’s heavy foundation. This dynamic lasts through the duration of the track. Adding to that is the contrast between Stefan Babcock’s half-sung/half-strained vocals and his generally catchy (but not too catchy) melodies that are augmented by the rest of the band’s gang vocals. In fact, in “Guilt Trip,” this is employed to maximum effect, as the best part of the song comes right at the end (around the 2:58 mark), when Babcock kind of loses his mind and starts screaming over raucous power chords, while the rest of his bandmates throw in some soaring harmonies behind him that juxtapose the intensity of the song’s climax.
Those moments are what make PUP such an enjoyable experience. The band never seems to feel like they have to sacrifice songwriting or arranging for intensity; instead, they just build the intensity right into the song itself. Granted, many of these tracks probably wouldn’t work that well as stripped down acoustic songs, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that that’s not really what they’re trying to accomplish, anyway. The foundations of this band – and this album – are built upon the group’s electrifying, passionate performances.