Pop-punk is a weird line to toe. On one hand, you have the whole “punk” aesthetic, which basically eschews any sort of sentiment or authority and goes for pure energy and noise, while on the other you have “pop”, which means crowd-pleasing and fun for all. Those two forces push and pull at the artists who’ve chosen the genre as their way forward. Slip a little in either direction and you run the risk of either alienating the fans who love you or the general audience you want to reach. Maycomb’s newest album, I Opened My Heart treads that line, and I’m not entirely sure they pull it off, but they do their level best.
I want to get this out right at the top though: I don’t like the vocal sound they go for. It’s too smooth and processed sounding, like it’s been auto-tuned to all hell. The melodies are all very rote and boring, to the point that I can’t tell the difference between many of the songs, as the patterns are all very similar. This, I admit, is a very specific gripe, and one that might be solely my own. I react to blatant auto-tuning like skin reacts to poison ivy. Having never seen the band live, I can’t attest to whether that’s just the way the singer’s voice sounds. But all that said, it just bothered me the entire time I was listening.
The music itself is decent, modern pop-punk at its utmost. It reminds me of The Wonder Years more than anything, who are one of my favorite bands. But here’s where the vocals come in again: with everything smoothed out like it is, there’s no emotion. Soupy, the singer from the Wonder Years, sings his heart out on every track, and you can hear it in the cracks and roughness of his voice. By eliminating any sort of grit or emotion from the vocals, the songs all become heartless and cold.
And this is where it comes back to my opening statement. The band (and its producer) have erred to far on the side of pop, I feel. With a little bit more punk anarchy and a little bit less pop sheen, I think I would have enjoyed this album a lot more. The song-writing is there, the music is good, but it all just sounds too calculated and cold, the obvious computer tinkering going too far down the road of cleanliness. It needs more dirt and more “punk” to it.
Maycomb’s debut album I Opened My Heart To Caustic Things is available now from I Am Mighty Records. Check out their Facebook page for more information, including store links and tour dates.