August 10, 2016 Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (Album Review)
The Punk Rock spectrum is a merciless scale in which fans and critics alike lump bands into the genre melting pot and unleash their opinions. The misconception of Punk is a topic whose battles usually end with ego-laden opinions defending the oh-so-touchy political, religious, and moral subjects stressed by on-stage peers. Products of salty conformists and crumbling-society driven tensions, Punk bands are a dirty dozen: intense, defiant, brutally honest, and absolute in their views. And…pretty great. On any given day, what eases a little worldly disappointment better than two minutes’ worth of vented political woe? Pack that sucker with every silenced opinion a listener has ever had, and voila, you have a Punk song. On a scale of Blink-182 to Leftover Crack, the Descendents perch just-scientifically-so among the intense perspectives and let’s-debate views, distinguishing themselves with none other than…positivity (yeah, several readers just cringed). Releasing their seventh studio album, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, via Epitaph Records on July 29th, the Descendents picked up right where they left off (12 years ago, cough).
With an impressive 30+ year career under their belts, the Descendents have aged quite well. No, not appearance-wise (although grey hair and crow’s feet really do Milo something pleasing), but with the history held between member changes, health issues, college degrees, and staying true to the style they were founded upon. Formed during the late 1970s, the California natives produced some of the most revered albums in Punk history: Milo Goes to College, the Fat EP and I Don’t Want to Grow Up. Known by their iconic cartoonish depiction of Lead Vocalist Milo Aukerman, the band’s long-awaited new album keeps close to the angry-nerd, what-is-my-life themes that inspired that very logo. Pepper in a few deeper voices, parenting kids of their own, coming to terms with being in their 50’s, and you have Hypercaffium Spazzinate.
Opening track “Feel This” surges instant nostalgia from Guitarist Stephen Egerton’s riff. A youthful charge of sliding-fret squeals and voracious speed promises more than old dogs learning new tricks. Drummer Bill Stevenson fills the minute-and-a-half long song with sheer cymbal magic, while Vocalist Aukerman lyrically roots the tune. The clarity and pronunciation of Aukerman’s vocals are the only age-exposing components about the whole song. Classic Descendents all around.
As quickly as “Feel This” ends, “Victim of Me” rushes in with incentive to all the years of hard work. Instantly highlighting Bassist Karl Alvarez’s iron lines, the track unashamedly comes to grips with where life has landed them; as individuals, as a band. Celebrating the satisfaction of not scrutinizing yourself over expected life decisions differs after you reach a certain age. It actually has meaning. Of all the extremely severe, anarchical, self-loathing Punk songs out there, this slightly simple, 30-years-in-the-making track rectifies what it really means to not be your own victim. To not care, in the best of ways.
Giving Egerton free reign over the mini-solos, “On Paper” boasts slick leads, classic speed, and a few good-natured right hooks at having a resume made of gold. Humor could solve a world war if everyone self-serenaded: “I’m not so easy on the eye/it’s been said my face could make an onion cry.” The lyrical genius of this song is of course, the irony: how the mask of one superb resume beats all else, while coming from the mouth of Biochemist himself, Aukerman. Stay in school kids.
Paying homage to 1981’s Fat EP, “No Fat Burger” keeps the lyrical jabs coming. With taut hits and a clipping speed, Stevenson and Aukerman reign in the satire. Poking fun at all the gluttonous foods they are not allowed to eat anymore (“no more chicken pot pie/no more chorizo”), the song speeds through its 43 second run way too soon. The “no more fat” hook will predictably be the live-show chant. Hypercaffium Spazzinate is a whole piece of the (now forbidden) pie. Noteworthy tracks “Without Love” and “Limiter” go heavy on the feelings, while “We Got Defeat” and “Smile” are classic Descendents underdog anthems.
Given the nature of Punk, the Descendents are notably less eyebrow-raising. Without much profanity, crass imagery, or mandatory-agree-with-us views, their message is loud and clear. This is where that ole’ softy word comes in: positive. Seemingly unfit to stand next to the word “punk” when describing the Descendents, positive just works. Perhaps that is why so many critics often default to the term “Pop-Punk” when referring to them and similar bands. No one wants to be deemed “positive” in fear of being not Punk enough. Hypercaffium Spazzinate is that bridge. Currently headlining an overseas tour, catch the Descendents at Riot Fest Denver and Riot Fest Chicago in early September. CrypticRock gives this album 4 out of 5 stars.