If someone would’ve said this time last year that the new Telethon album would be among one of the most anticipated releases of 2019, it would’ve been met with a serious amount of incredulity and confusion. For all the ignorance it may betray, Telethon simply weren’t on the radar back then despite having a fair amount of music to their name, but this all changed with last year’s stunning Modern Abrasive EP, melding indie-punk and power-pop with theatrical pop-rock and a sense of razor-tight precision, to the point where it fully earmarked them as something potentially incredibly special. Since then, they’ve only been making even more of a mark as well, not only in being the proprietors of some of the most wholesome social media content around, but in delivering strings of singles that only seem to be refining their skills to an even finer point. Hard Pop comes as the culmination of so many efforts to reach the cusp of indie-punk superstardom, and given how much of a colossal leap forward it’s already been, there’s no reason this full body of work shouldn’t be the enormous push into the thick of it that Telethon so wholeheartedly deserve.
Above that, it’s not even like there’s any real apprehension when it comes to Telethon making that jump, seeing as they’ve not put a single foot wrong for their entirety of their album campaign (or indeed, the last one) thus far. But even by those standards, Hard Pop is still a flooring example of a band throwing literally everything at their disposal at the wall and having it all stick. It’s an extremely rare case that an album can sound this packed and busy, and yet have such coherence where everything makes absolute sense, all coalescing into a candy-coated explosion of unadulterated joy that never loses even a shred of that luster with each repeat spin. This is the sort of album that, especially in indie-punk, is primed to blow every door in a mile radius wide open, and Telethon are revelling in every second of it.
And at it’s core, it’s not like Hard Pop is vastly different from a lot of other indie-punk albums out there. It still focuses on very insulated, personal events and blows them up with a massive pop focus, but the difference comes in such a profound sense of scale and gusto that Telethon bring to their material in particular. Rarely is the wry, winning smile ever not plastered across the album, as, regardless of what each piece of individual subject matter is, Hard Pop finds a way to circle back to the aforementioned sense of joy that becomes such a refreshing baseline here. It’s also where the band’s well-documented love of Disneyland feels as though it holds the greatest weight, as small, everyday moments are blown up into these wonderful explosions of light; the imagery remains present, especially when there’s a track openly named House Of The Future after the attraction in Anaheim’s Tomorrowland (with the actual attraction itself providing this album’s artwork), and when that feels as though it bends the overall vibe of the album as much as it does, the results can be utterly irresistible.
But when it comes to Telethon, it’s the performance and execution that stands as the biggest factor, and Hard Pop feels like the most concise, extensive example of that to date, in that there’s barely a single moment that doesn’t land and sound like the most infectious thing ever put to record as a result. The indie-punk template is definitely a good starting point for that, but it says a lot about Telethon’s creative mindset that, even on the tracks that conform the most to that layout like Chimney Rock, there’s a sense of amped-up power-pop swagger in the fizzy, trailing keys and Kevin Tully’s vocal performance that carries such an exuberance and colour. It definitely feels like the mood of Disneyland is brought back for the overall presentation, not just because points of Manila can sound like the DuckTales theme song, but because for the full-on, unceasing sugar-rush that this album is, it’s not overwhelming and rarely doesn’t feel like the most fun thing in the world. There’s the dancing Randy Newman-esque pianos on How Long Do I Let It Go For? and the slinky saxophone line on Youdon’tinspiremelikeyouusedto, but Telethon reach their absolute zenith when they prove they’re not afraid to go for broke and just embrace everything they love, coolness or trendiness be damned. That much becomes clear in making the opening track Loser / That Old Private Hell a dizzying mini rock opera in its own right, but switching up House Of The Future from a charming, theatrical indie-rock number to caffeinated pop-punk banger, or throwing in legitimate ska-punk breakdowns on both Wonderparty and Manila shows a creativeness that feels so rich and full, and that Telethon are strip-mining to reap every wonderful advantage they can. And of course, the hooks consistently hit a level of transcendent power-pop euphoria, produced in a way that sounds big and brash without losing any of that playful theatricality or spark. There are still minor nitpicks here and there (Sirens definitely feels like the most throwaway track here as little more than an interlude), but for the most part, Hard Pop really does capture a sense of magic within indie-punk that Telethon are currently miles ahead of the pack with.
And if that sounds hyperbolic, it’s really not. As a genre, indie-punk has become notoriously homogeneous over the past few years, so to see Telethon crashing in with as much pomp and fanfare as they have, and showing everyone exactly what this genre is capable of is genuinely wonderful to see. But even just on the level of quality, this is by far one of the catchiest, most creatively layered albums to be released this year, bulging with inspiration and vibrancy, of which none of it feels perfunctory of misplaced even in the slightest. Yes, this might be Telethon’s fourth album, but if this isn’t a virtually guaranteed breakthrough into enormous things, there’s something severely wrong here that needs to rectified in a hurry, because whether it’s in indie-punk, power-pop, pop-rock or whatever else you want to call it, Telethon have raised the bar to new heights. Right now, it’s up to everyone else to catch up.
For fans of: Motion City Soundtrack, Panic! At The Disco, The Sonder Bombs
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hard Pop’ by Telethon is out now on Take This To Heart Records.