A decade ago, Illinois’ Pop Punk sensations Knuckle Puck formed in the Chicago ‘burbs with the goal of making musical mayhem. Progressing rapidly, they moved from cover songs to original material, delivering a series of EPs that got them signed to Rise Records in 2014. Their debut LP, Copacetic, arrived a year later, and paved the way for 2017’s Shapeshifter as well as tours alongside the likes of Senses Fail, State Champs, and Neck Deep.
A band that continually seems to make all the positive lists and listicles, Knuckle Puck—Vocalist Joe Taylor, Guitarist/Vocalist Nick Casasanto, Guitarist Kevin Maida, Bassist Ryan Rumchaks, and Drummer John Siorek—is ready to bring some light into 2020 with the aptly-titled 20/20, which arrives Friday, September 18, 2020, via Rise Records.
Produced by Seth Henderson (Real Friends, Homesafe), the 11-song LP might not be exactly what some fans are expecting. Despite becoming one of the Pop Punk genre’s preeminent forces thanks to a relatable lyrical approach and similarly engaging musical sensibilities, the introspection, passion and ire-fueled material of their past two releases has, at times, been a bit crushing. Reflecting on this fact, Casasanto notes: “Not every song has to be an existential journey. We went into this album wanting to make people feel good about who they are and not upset about who they aren’t. There’s so much to be angry about right now, and rather than contribute to it, we wanted to give people a reason to feel good.”
Taking a matured approach to their songwriting, 20/20 sees the band coupling their melodic Pop-Punk feels with that feeling of right now, providing an often frustrated look at life and relationships that always comes out glowing with positivity for a better future. Setting the tone for what’s to follow, they open 20/20 to its titular track. Delicate, twinkling guitars from Casasanto and Maida build into the entire band’s performance as Knuckle Puck reflects on the impermanence of so many of life’s situations, and the need to try to see clearly even in the most dire of times. Don’t simply sit around and wait, instead refuse to hold back hope and be proactive. It’s a theme that will recur throughout the songs to follow.
Throughout 20/20, Knuckle Puck shines brightest in the moments where they offer up songs that are open to your personal interpretation. Yes, we generally understand the band’s intentions, but on songs such as the frustrated “Tune You Out,” there’s enough wiggle room to apply the lyrics to either a high-strung lover or our overwhelming, ADD world. With angelic pre-choruses that will lure you into the band’s melodic sound, they opt to switch off the noise “‘til we all calm down.”
While potential catastrophe haunts on “Sidechain,” in the face of a breakdown the band provides only good vibes. As they ask you to consider what you are running from, they provide an upbeat hopefulness that is mirrored throughout much of the collection. Perhaps none more so than on “Breathe,” where Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders steps in to help out his friends. Providing yet another injection of the positive, Knuckle Puck (and friend) remind us to take that much needed moment to stop, collect ourselves, and just breathe.
There are, of course, the more obvious tracks. Leading the way is the silly “Earthquake,” the obligatory song about a girl. In this instance, she looks so good she will melt your mind, and keep you feeling like you’re on SSRIs. Taking a more poetic stab at paying homage to a lady, the super sweet “Green Eyes (Polarized)” slows it down. However, the bulk of the album is not quite so blatant, instead composed of tracks such as “What Took You So Long?,” a self-reminder that sometimes the best things in life are right in front of our eyes. Likewise, there’s a more emotional resonance to “Into the Blue,” as superb bass lines from Rumchaks weave around Casasanto and Maida’s cheerful guitars.
Sitting somewhere in the middle of all of this are the tracks like “True North” that set a mood, and urge listeners to embrace the person or thing that always keeps your light strong. (Please, no Motel 6 jokes!) There’s also the chugging pace of “Miles Away,” an autobiographical reflection on the life of a touring musician that is also a commentary on time, boredom, and losing yourself inside the chaos of your own head. Oh! And lest we forget “RSVP,” a bold blast of Pop Punk that appears to be aimed at naysayers.
Start to finish, there’s that glowing ray of summer sunshine embedded inside 20/20 that reflects a matured band who continues to offer their listeners a sincerity and realness that is often lacking in today’s popular music. Again, throughout the LP they continuously turn toward the light; though there’s an honest acceptance that, without those down days, the full depth of our joy is somehow dimmed. Furthermore, their easily digestible Pop Punk style makes them a guaranteed hit with fans of everyone from Simple Plan and New Found Glory to The Early November and The Wonder Years.
Are they Emo? Who cares! Just living in the here and now, trying to find a way to smile through the chaos, Knuckle Puck are making honest music that is likely to strike a chord with many. For this, Cryptic Rock gives 20/20 4 of 5 stars.