Fittingly enough for an album titled Holy Shit, Living With Lions’ 2011 sophomore album proved to be their “holy shit” moment. It was probably one of the standout punk albums of that year, but between the imaginable levels of controversy (caused from the album’s packaging designed to resemble a Bible, no less) and the departure of frontman Stu Ross soon after its release, it proved to be a shaky time for Living With Lions to endure. Even with guitarist Chase Brenneman stepping up to frontman duties to cushion the blow somewhat, the fact that their last piece of recorded material was a three-track EP in 2013 could prove unconvincing. Similar bands like Transit and Fireworks ended up calling it a day, and things with Living With Lions seemed even more uncertain.
In that regard, Island isn’t Living With Lions returning after half a decade to kick the door of modern punk off its hinges, but it’s exactly what it needs to be – a good, occasionally great modern punk and pop-punk album that definitely leans into tropes and expectations a bit too far to rise above that, but feels refreshed in the way it does it. And that’s more in the execution than the writing, seeing as it does have a habit of falling into cliché or simply not being as interesting as it really could, but when that’s offset by instrumentation that feels so forceful and resolute, it’s easy to look past. Even that’s not particularly original, as is often the case with melodic punk that’s keeping to a distinctly ground level, but with tracks like The Remedy or Hastings Sunrise staying consistently organic and working in tandem with Brenneman’s charged, occasionally acidic vocals, any progressions feel natural and comfortable without being lazy.
That’s probably the most key in how this album works, too. It’s the sort of album that will especially ring familiar for pop-punk’s newer waves, and that’s an identity that Living With Lions are frankly great at stepping into. Even on the slower, piano-accented Night Habits, this is an album that works because it never tries to force itself to become something it’s not; Living With Lions are sticking very readily in their comfort zone. And while that could just as easily be a criticism, Island is entertaining enough and well enough put together to keep running with considerable steam all the way through. Even if they’ve had better albums in the past, this is exactly what was needed to return with, and they’ve managed to hit the ground running from it.
For fans of: The Story So Far, Trophy Eyes, Fireworks
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Island’ by Living With Lions is released on 21st September on Redfield Records.