The cynicism that could’ve initially been thrown in As It Is’ direction can be excusable in hindsight. While their debut full-length Never Happy, Ever After was a notably strong start for the Brighton pop-punks, in the almost two years since its release, its stock has taken somewhat of a dive, and the smoother, more mainstream accessible sound compared to their earlier EPs has only become more noticeable. It also could’ve been the same style-over-substance act that’s become a frustratingly common occurrence, especially with American-born frontman Patty Walters as the de facto ‘main member’ of the band, as well as the already plentiful group of fans cultivated from his YouTube covers. That their debut was as good as it was softened the blow a bit, but the fact that, historically, bands of their ilk have struggled to get past a first release only served to put more stumbling blocks in their way.
Thankfully, okay. is subject to few enough problems that it should see As It Is continue on a steady enough pace, though where exactly it’ll see them end up remains to be seen. That’s because, while As It Is consistently show that they’re very good at playing to their strengths on here, that’s really all they’re good at as progression is fairly minimal and they still haven’t rectified the main issues of their debut, namely the ballads which resurface as wet and weedy as ever here on the closer Still Remembering. Away from that though, As It Is still have a serious knack for pop hooks that is used to its full potential here, like the chunky bounce of Pretty Little Distance or the darker flurries of Soap. The vocal interplay between Walters and Ben Biss is once again successful too, with Walters’ nasal vocals bringing a Transatlantic tang to the album, while Biss’ less-refined voice keeps everything grounded with just the slightest bit of grit.
So far, so good, but this isn’t really anything new; As It Is have already proved that this is right up their alley on their debut, and though the slightest bit of sharpening can be picked up here and there, it’s nothing revolutionary whatsoever here. To find okay.‘s real selling point requires digging into the lyrics, and how the thematic framing of the whole thing works ridiculously well. Everything about this album is grounded in the mantra of “it’s okay to not be okay”, from the lyrics to the newly-adopted aesthetic of ’50s suburban middle America, where any problems and issues can be hidden away beneath a fake, plastic smile. It feeds into how this album presents itself, with the likes of the title track or No Way Out throwing out sunny, ludicrously addictive melodies, but burying Walter’s introverted, niggling crises underneath. Hey Rachel serves as an apology to the frontman’s sister for not being there for her during a period of depression and anxiety, while Curtains Close details the painful dissolution of a longstanding marriage, and Patchwork Love is the back-and-forth between a couple who want each other to be happy, but have ultimately fallen out of love. The track that hits the hardest comes with Austen, a song about Walters’ grandfather in hospital, and the pain of seeing a family member in such a vulnerable state, not knowing if you’ll ever see them again. For a band that can and have been easily dismissed as throwaway in the past, some of the lyrical directions on okay. are surprisingly cutting and hard-hitting, and there’s some real pathos that comes along with them that’s genuinely impressive.
It’s just a shame that it’s not mirrored as thoroughly in the production. It’s not a disaster by any means – compared to some other pop-rock bands doing the rounds As It Is might as well be the most abrasive thing ever put to record for the sheer advent of having audible guitars, and there are some moments where a thicker aggressiveness shines through, like Austen‘s stormy alt-rock or No Way Out which adopts some of modern pop-punk’s heavier affectations. But then you’ve got Hey Rachel and The Coast Is Where Home Is which bite hard on the slicker, more saccharine side of All Time Low, or Still Remembering, the breathy ballad lumped at the very end to make the album really feel like it runs out of steam fast. It feels frustratingly bitty is this regard, and where okay. could’ve been As It Is’ big shot at proving themselves as a grittier, more raw prospect, the effort feels half-formed and less convincing.
Still, okay. is far from a failure. Already it feels like it’s blessed with more longevity than its predecessor thanks to songwriting that feels more real and personal, and some tentative yet noticeable steps into territory that’s a bit less polished. It still won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and for anyone who’s not already on board with As It Is, this isn’t going to change their minds, but they’re improving and progressing over time into a better band, and that at least deserves some respect if nothing else.
For fans of: All Time Low, Mayday Parade, Real Friends
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘okay.’ by As It Is is out now on Fearless Records.