A few years ago, the claim that Light Years were one of the most underrated bands in pop-punk would’ve been hard to dispute. At the genre’s 2010s peak, their album I’ll See You When I See You showed such an excellent command of melodic richness and bracing heart that few could really match, and while certain pockets of the scene took notice, it never really took the band to the heights they should have reached. That alone pretty much guaranteed Light Years’ spot at the outside looking in; it’s not like pop-punk in the mid-2010s had any room at the top table anyway, but few bands were less deserving of their casualty status as this one.

Maybe that’s the explanation for why Afterlife feels like a step down, or at least an adjacent slide into territory that Light Years have proven to be more superior than. It’s hardly a failure, even by this band’s own standards – there’s enough of an old-school drive to keep the momentum rolling while holding on to some of the maturity and introspection that’s frequently coloured their material – but it also feels distinctly low-key and unassuming, lacking the real peaks that made its predecessor such a gripping listen. When viewed within the larger pop-punk spectrum, they can easily be dismissed as nitpicks, especially when Afterlife on its own is fine enough as a no-frills pop-punk album goes, but there’s a spark that’s missing here, and that really does them no favours if reaching that upper tier is still seen as an achievable goal.

At the very least, Afterlife isn’t some wild shift in focus that throws everything good about Light Years off balance; this is still a predominantly organic, easy pop-punk with little else to muddy that set-in-stone goal. Sure, you might find sprinkles of emo or alt-rock here and there on the downbeat, mid-paced It Doesn’t Matter (incidentally making it among the best tracks here), but Light Years are ultimately keeping their cards very close to their chest with regards to what they can do. And that’s absolutely fine, particularly if they can double down on punchy melodies to really accentuate their abilities, and a lot of the time, Afterlife does that. Bottom Of The Ocean feels a little bit off-kilter with its darker, lurching riffs but in a way that has a surprising amount of recognisable character, and even when played a lot straighter on the chunky bounce of How Are You or the fizzing melodies of Bottle Rocket, there’s enough that’s enjoyable about this album that means it’s easy to become interested and stay that way.

The problem, though, is that Afterlife struggles to cross over from “interesting” to “engrossing”, something that Light Years have rarely had a problem with in the past. Maybe it’s a case of how indistinct some of these tracks can feel, particularly towards the end when some of the over-familiarity really starts to set it, or writing that lacks some of the flavour of previous albums. Either way, Afterlife’s appeal is a fair bit more muted than what Light Years’ are typically capable of, and when that’s effectively the common thread that runs throughout, it winds up being an album that’s perfectly enjoyable on a surface level, but is unable to stir up much more beyond that.

And again, that’s not necessarily a problem for some, but in the context of Light Years’ discography that’s been so impressive up to now, Afterlife can’t help feeling like a lesser cut. It’s far from an outright failure, but it’s also not the sort of album that offers much reason to revisit it; there’s a few choice, standout cuts, sure, and a level of consistency never hurts, but the net amount feels distinctly lower than last time, and it does bring this album down noticeably. For what it is, it’s fine enough, but for Light Years’ especially, it could be more.

6/10

For fans of: Seaway, Sleep On It, ROAM
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Afterlife’ by Light Years is released on 30th November on Rude Records.

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