Pop punk has become a saturated genre in the last few years, yet Chicago five-piece Knuckle Puck have always been marked as “ones to watch”. Since forming in 2011, they’ve released six EPs including a split with Neck Deep, and it’s fair to say that for fans, the wait for a full-length album has been pretty excruciating. Still, some sceptics are still questioning Knuckle Puck’s potential to be successful, with some stating they are “the most generic of generic pop punk”. But one listen to debut album Copacetic proves that there’s a hell of a lot to be excited about.
There is some truth to the “generic pop punk” label attached so often to Knuckle Puck. But this is not a bad thing for the most part. Opener Wall To Wall (Depreciation) utilizes classic double-time drums with angry singing. Poison Pen Letter sits on the other end of the spectrum, as it’s a slower anthem about growing up, boasting one of the catchiest choruses heard this year. There are moments where sticking to the cliché pop punk formula grates, though. Stationary tells the story of a relationship, from the initial yearning to the breakdown. Its foundations have been taken right out of ‘Pop Punk 101’, but lacks the special something most of the other tracks display, ultimately making it a bit forgettable.
The most praiseworthy aspect about Copacetic is the lyrics. It’s clear that singer Joe Taylor has swallowed more than one dictionary in his lifetime, resulting in intelligent, eloquent lyrics that seem more like diary entries than songs. Swing is charmingly self-deprecating, including heartfelt lyrics like “I swing but I miss every time”. These words have extra impact when followed by one of the track’s many instrumental passages and left to linger. Even when Taylor’s vocals become shouty and harsh, like in Disdain or the excellent Pretense, the thought-provoking lyrics are the focus every time. It’s just a shame that on shorter song Ponder that the mostly too-harsh vocals overshadow the standout lyrics and simply gorgeous guitars.
It’s the unexpected where Knuckle Puck shine most, however. Closer Untitled is not just a stark contrast to the other more complicated album titles. It sits at just under eight minutes long, and is a slow burner, unlike the other more straightforward tracks which build in a more subtle way. Beginning with tender guitar picking, it builds up to eventually include chords, vocals, harmonies and drums before falling back to being solely acoustic. “Everything is copacetic” is the last thing heard on the track, causing a truly satisfying end due to the phrase being heard earlier on Ponder. It is not until after Untitled ends that you realise how well-rounded Copacetic is, almost like a narrative.
You’d be forgiven for dismissing Knuckle Puck as generic pop punk based on their EPs. But Copacetic is sure to change that. Although the tracks are simple, they are catchy and likeable, with lyrics that will be written on notebooks for years to come. The uncommon words included in the titles and lyrics only give the band an original edge, setting them apart from any other newcomers to the genre. If Knuckle Puck keep this up, then it’s only inevitable that they’ll go from “ones to watch” to the Next Big Thing in pop punk.
For fans of: blink-182, The Story So Far, Real Friends
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Copacetic’ by Knuckle Puck is out now on Rise Records.