There are plenty of reasons to not like pop-punk as a genre, most of which are associated with the stereotypes that it unfortunately has to bear. It’s often seen as too preened and polished to be considered an offshoot of punk, and that it adheres to tiresome tropes and clichés that revel in a perennial juvenile mindset. And while that’s not wrong, pop-punk as a whole has been doing a lot more to break out of that rut, with bands like Knuckle Puck or Seaway playing to tones more reminiscent of those punk roots and content that delves a bit deeper with more to actually say. Even if it isn’t immediately obvious, pop-punk is evolving, and the genre’s top players are the ones embracing those changes for the better.
And on the complete other side of the spectrum, there’s a band like Story Untold who, on their new album Waves, co-opt the most basic, drained pop-punk tropes for a listen that couldn’t seem more plain or drab. Sure, there might be some solid hooks and command of melody on a superficial level, but dig deeper and this album quickly reveals that it has precious little to offer, particularly when compared to so many of the big names who are exploring new, more interesting avenues. This, by comparison, feels like pop-punk-by-numbers in the least flattering way.
Even when placed aside other bands who aren’t exactly breaking the mould, Story Untold’s approach feels designed to tick every box necessary in terms of modern, mainstream-friendly pop-punk with those big names from the 2000s clearly in the line of sight. It says a lot that vocalist Janick Thibault sounds virtually identical to All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth, especially considering how their recent work seems to be the biggest reference point for where Story Untold are heading, at least musically. Sure, a song like Matches In The Ocean having a darker, sturdier guitar tone is a nice touch and serves to break up any potential monotony, but it’s a single isolated example in a sea of more blemish-free, immaculately-produced pop-punk that fully throws away any grit or weight that would make it so much more appealing. At least when that mostly extends to a truncated guitar tone on The 3ND or Up 2 You, it’s nothing really out of the ordinary, but when it comes to the stiff, colourless programming that clogs up Delete and California, the potential to grate as much as this album does goes through the roof.
Indeed, California is indicative of the other major problem that this album has, in that, from a writing standpoint, this is a generic and underdeveloped as it gets. California is the clear nadir, basically a checklist of beach party imagery that could be a parody of any ’90s power-pop song crossed with the emptiest of 5 Seconds Of Summer’s singles, but the rest is hardly much better. It mainly defaults to boring relationship melodrama that might’ve had something to offer in 2005 but just feels so dull at this point, rattling off the umpteenth iteration of heartbreak (Delete), trying to convince a girl to leave her boyfriend (Invisible), and on In Or Out and Always The Same (Once A Liar, Always A Liar), the sort of passive-aggressive chiding of an ex that’s just incredibly tiresome at this point. Look past all of this and Story Untold are admittedly pretty good at penning a chorus that has some staying power, but again, it’s hardly anything new or that can offer an interesting perspective, just rehashes of themes that have been ploughed through time and time again by countless other acts.
And when considering Waves as a whole, it’s not bad enough to spur on any sort of real rage, but when the alternative is total ambivalence and a reserved shrug, that’s not much better. Story Untold mightn’t be an awful band, but it’s hard to see exactly what they’re bringing to the table compared to so many other bands who are consistently pushing themselves and their craft. By comparison, everything about this album just feels so middling, with writing, production and performance that could really afford to try harder, if only to offer just that bit more. For now, you won’t remember this album exists after a few listens.
For fans of: All Time Low, With Confidence, Mayday Parade
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Waves’ by Story Untold is released on 2nd February on Hopeless Records.