As limited as their abilities may be, it’s arguable that The Story So Far have done more for pop-punk than pretty much any other band that springs to memory. Their most notable contribution is bringing hardcore influences into the genre’s mainstream, swapping out saccharine radio hooks for something a bit more meaty and mature. And with that comes the slew of acts finding widespread favour through achieving a similar effect – Neck Deep, ROAM, Knuckle Puck, the list goes on. But for as heavily as that formula has been co-opted in recent times, Trophy Eyes have actually found a new way to hybridise the two, keeping the pace and crunch but also factoring in screamed vocals from bassist Jeremy Winchester as a counterpoint to John Floreani’s cleans.
As a result, the Australian quintet’s sophomore full-length Chemical Miracle comes with heightened anticipation to see what sort of progression and appropriation this sound will undergo next. Thankfully, Trophy Eyes’ blend is at least interesting, bellying a base sound of emo-flavoured pop-punk with gravel-throated screams, even though the splicing of the two can very occasionally feel a bit clumsy. Sonically, there’s a tautness and strained emotional intensity that Trophy Eyes bring to the table, but there are moments that can feel phoned in, throwing these screams into the mix out of expectation rather than necessity. Take Nose Bleed for example – the vocals are far from bad, but for what transpires as a bouncy, upbeat pop-punk track in its instrumental, the emphasis on harsher vocals feels a bit jarring compared to what it could’ve been.
Most of the time though, Trophy Eyes’ fusion of the two sounds lends a fantastically weighty level of grit and intensity to these songs, especially when considering the subject matter. There’s an overbearing sense of deep-seated emotion that runs through these tracks that’s amplified to stand out, even though the album does have a tendency to run the typical emo gamut content-wise. Floreani’s lyrics are suitably confessional, touching on topics like his own vices (Heaven Sent‘s refrain of “Breaking hearts is second nature to me / I’ll step over you just to get what I need”) to questioning his own self-worth (“I got friends, I got friends / They don’t love me like I love them” on Daydreamer), but it’s when he steps out of such generalisation into far more specific material that Chemical Miracle hits hardest. It’s why opener Chlorine is an easy standout, seeing Floreani tackle the suicide of the person who had saved him from drowning as a child.
It’s a powerful sentiment echoed by the band’s unique vocal presence, but Trophy Eyes’ take on the genre comes to the greatest effect when the instrumentation ties it all together. Because, to put it bluntly, at its best Chemical Miracle arguably uses the oft-favoured emo-punk canvas better than it has been in some time. Where the vocals peak and trough to ride the levels of intensity necessary, the instrumentals do the same, meaning that for moments like the manic machine gun drumming of Rain On Me or the clattering angst of Miracle, there’s also the fuzzier, alt-rock inspired moments like Breathe You In or Suicide Pact. As mentioned earlier, it’s not always a perfect mix – Nose Bleed and Counting Sheep, while by no means bad songs, can see vocals and instrumentals not quite forming an exact match – but more often than not, Chemical Miracle manages to hit the nail on the head in terms of tone and how to make it convincing.
Because, as an album, this is one that, above all else, feels real. There are imperfections left in, but there’s such a staunchness to what Trophy Eyes are saying that they’re quickly eclipsed by what a grassroots punk album should sound like. And while Trophy Eyes may be a more difficult beast to catagorise than some of their peers, the punk ethos is one that’s radiated on Chemical Miracle, one that sees a band doing what they know in their own way, and not worrying about the consequences. It just so happens that the consequences are a pretty fantastic album.
For fans of: Basement, The Story So Far, Columbus
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Chemical Miracle’ by Trophy Eyes is out now on Hopeless Records.