On paper, Angel Du$t seems like too good of a project to pass up. For one, it’s a band consisting of members of Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice, two acts who’ve unceasingly been heralded as among the most exciting names in hardcore, and for good reason. That alone is an easy sell, but factoring in a much stronger pivot towards pop-punk and alt-rock, there’s something that feels so naturally appealing about that concept. Both Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice have previously displayed a looseness and willing to experiment that’s always taken them way past the restrictive boundaries of hardcore, and while their attempts at collating those influences in Angel Du$t have flown disappointingly under the radar thus far, there seems to be some serious groundswell underneath Pretty Buff. Granted, Big Ass Love and Take Away The Pain – aside from being huge sidesteps into jaunty acoustic punk territory – could feel a bit too slight as isolated pieces at around two minutes apiece, but bands like this have often had a better track record with full projects. It certainly makes Pretty Buff seem like a proposition with something to deliver, especially if Angel Du$t can make good on all the good will that’s been thrown their way and deliver something exciting.
And if nothing else, it definitely delivers something, namely an album that defies just as many expectations of what this particular band would bring to the table as its early singles did. Above all though, it feels like Angel Du$t trying to define themselves as a legitimate presence in punk instead of just a side-project, and while sonically they’ve achieved that here, whether it actually lasts is a different, more complicated matter entirely. That’s not to say that Pretty Buff is bad – for a brand of acoustic-driven punk that Angel Du$t have effectively plucked out of thin air, it has an impressive liveliness and tone that can really make it stand out – but it’s also not too much of a stretch to say that this isn’t the finished article, and feels much more like a jumping-off point right now than anything explicitly great.
That being said, as far as jumping-off points go, Angel Du$t have crafted one that draws from some pretty inspired ideas. For one, it’s played in a way that intrinsically benefits the pop-punk direction they’re regularly drifted in, feeling more like a transposed version of that traditional sound rather than the typical rollick usually associated with folk-punk. That really begins to get its legs when Angel Du$t fully embrace the sense of fun and dynamism this sound can bring, like pairing the pronounced acoustic thrum with guitars more reminiscent of ‘90s power-pop on Biggest Girl and Where I Am, or keeping a sense of pace that’s only amplified by the tight, textured percussion on Let Me Know and even endeavouring to throw an honest-to-goodness breakdown in the mix on On My Way. There’s a sense of fun and exuberance that becomes the main takeaway from this album; by playing around with colour and sonic shape in a way that, rightfully, should be out of their jurisdiction, when Pretty Buff connects, it’s positively joyous. Put it this way – it says a lot that the out-of-nowhere trill of saxophone on Bang My Drum is, without a doubt, the best moment on the entire album.
While that is the case though, it doesn’t stop a lot of that foundation feeling like much more. All the ideas that Angel Du$t bring to the table are largely good, but the fact is they struggle to build on them to enough of an extent for the payoff to really feel substantial. It’s a bad sign when an album that’s only half-an-hour long begins to feel as though it’s repeating itself, but there’s only so many ways for the same acoustic tone to be thrust into a pop-punk and alt-rock framework before it loses some steam. That definitely happens too, and given that this is a fairly slight listen on basic construction alone, Pretty Buff has its threadbare spots that become increasingly difficult to ignore. Sure, Justice Tripp’s vocals might play well to this stripped-back material in their deliberately low-key sweetness, but like the instrumentation behind them, there’s only so much that can be done with them before the appeal is sizably diminished. Alongside lyrics that suffer from similar issues of being very thin and underdeveloped, Pretty Buff has spark to be enjoyable, but it seldom lasts long enough for that to be a frequent outcome.
And that’s a shame, because Angel Du$t have tapped into something that could do seriously well for them in the long run. There are very few bands doing this sort of sound in the same permutations as they are, and when they hit that sweet spot where everything comes together, the results positively soar. But that doesn’t happen as often as it should, and it leaves Pretty Buff feeling like a decent album with excellent moments, but not nearly enough to claw its across the finish line to greatness. If nothing else, the seeds have been sewn for something truly exciting down the road, and it’s easy to see how this could be so much fun live, but Angel Du$t could do with tweaking with they’ve got to really hit their stride.
For fans of: The Ataris, Weezer, Audio Karate
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Pretty Buff’ by Angel Du$t is out now on Roadrunner Records.