Album Reviews

White Lung – Paradise


In recent years, there is a marked shift in the ideal of pop-punk. What was once a, pretty justifiably, derided sub-genre, now has an odd cult-like following surrounding it. Swing over to Tumblr and see a devotion that seems so alien for a musical classification who shining stars are Blink 182, Sum 41 and Green Day. Fun bands in their own right but they’re not the kind who’d inspire Rush levels of dedication. Within that too there is an idea that this category is under some kind of threat that it needs to be “defended”. But what’s so odd is that is a schism that allows two drastically divergent interpretations of the same phrase to both be canon and to inspire the same levels of enthusiastic zeal. On the one side, you have groups who’ll produce straightforward pop songs but with slightly distorted guitars, sleeve tattoos and a greater emphasis on the pains of being a beautiful snowflake and casual misogyny. On the other, you have glorified hardcore bands, all dressing in the new uniform of black skinny-jeaned “bro” attire, who feel that by throwing in a 1D chorus onto a sub-Black Flag riff they’re totally legit. It all feels not unlike misinterpreted text who bastardised readings have now inspired legions of scene kids to close off their minds and shut out anything that doesn’t comply with their worldview. Plus, the casual misogyny is genuinely worrying. Paradise, the latest LP from Vancouver punks White Lung, though, is a breath of fresh air in this mix. It is a release that actively wants to push this style forward into a new place while tackling the hogwash and more troubling aspects of its contemporaries. It does this not by splitting up the music up into its individual components, running with a single one and hastily sticking on the rest at the end like a poorly constructed show-and-tell project, but by writing songs that interweave the two in a symbiotic relationship and by focusing their lyrics on topics such as gender empowerment, the kid gloves used with female serial killers and dreams of escape. While it doesn’t fully achieve its aims, it makes a pretty convincing argument for the continuation of this ideal in a tight, massively enjoyable package.

Clocking in at barely 28 minutes, there is so little room to ninny about and waste your time. From the first moment, it’s evident that this album is not going a waste a second of your time. It’s this ADHD riddled pop punk that grabs you with two hands before taking off at supersonic speeds, and while it does slow down and relax at points, it never lets you go. ‘Dead Weight’, the album opener, is an incredibly busy number with these clattering drums and almost math rock like central riff that comfortably sets the stage for the magnitude and scale of the rest of the record, but also sets the tone for what is to follow. ‘Kiss Me When I Bleed’ is an undeniably dynamite number with meaty, crunchy guitars, excellent use of tremolo and stadium-sized hook courtesy of the chorus’s refrain: “I will give birth in a trailer, huffing the gas in the air”. ‘Vegas’ as well uses these metal riffs to pummel you into submission before concluding with a minute of ambient, ethereal noise that manages to be more affecting than the two minutes that preceded it. But the real standout here is ‘Below’. While the majority of the album opts for the full frontal assault approach, ‘Below’ is the ostensible “ballad” of Paradise. Finding that same balance of melody and intensity as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘Maps’, ‘Below’ is this track built on the tension between Mish Barber-Way’s excellent almost Lady Gaga vocals and the rest of the band who spend the entire runtime hovering over their pedals, eagerly waiting to bring the aggression and manifest their emotional fury as pure glorious noise. It is really the centre point of the disc and highlights what a group in complete control of their powers can do within the genre.

It’s a really powerful and exciting record and one that commands your attention throughout. Nearly perfectly laid out, the record touches real greatness at points but never manages to sustain it. Part of this comes from some fatigue in the mid section of the album as ‘Sister’ and ‘Hunger’ lack the drive and force of their brethren. But the real killer is the choice of the album closer. The title track is a perfectly functional song, it neatly slots in amongst the rest of the songs and fits in like a snug bug in a rug. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t have the strength of the song that precedes it. It ends what is an otherwise potent experience with a shrug rather than the roar it deserves. But in spite of this, Paradise is still comfortably one of the best punk records of the year. It’s a more complete version of Tacocat’s Lost Time, it’s an intelligent, furious beast that manages to stand head and shoulders above much of its contemporaries. Will Murphy