Going into Woes’ debut based on what they’ve previously released from it, there’s a distinct feeling of overcompensation. Pop-punk is currently on a downswing in terms of popularity, and a wider-ranging metropolitan sound is all the rage regardless of the context it’s used in, so therefore touting this as a pop-punk album bolstered by not just hip-hop and R&B, but also math-rock and prog seems to hold everything in place rather firmly. Not only is this blatantly adhering to a very modern approach to creating music, but it could theoretically be the shot in the arm that pop-punk needs to return to the top once again. But is all of that really possible? After all, bands have thrown out similarly big statements before to no avail, and to see Woes’ attempt skirt so close to each touchstone that needs to hit implies an album following a rather algorithm-driven process when it comes to its creation. Then again, maybe that’s just a needlessly cynical viewpoint, regardless of how it all comes across, and Awful Truth is actually an album that does stick the landing in terms of creative drive and how that translates to what’s offered.
And, to Woes’ total credit, Awful Truth is most definitely comes from a place of original intent rather than anywhere egregiously cynical-minded. But that only opens even more doors from there, largely around whether or not Woes’ intentions and experiments really get them anywhere, and that can be difficult to reach a solid consensus on. At its core, Awful Truth feels like a resolutely solid pop-punk album that at least has an idea of how to approach the coterie of ideas it’s trying to juggle, but it would be a stretch to say that everything connects or blends beyond what one might expect from a debut intending for its first step to be to such a lofty platform. But that in itself isn’t too much of a problem; Woes seem to know what they want even if they don’t quite have the means to fully reach it yet, and as such, it leads to Awful Truth being a solid jumping off point, laying down their ideas to be developed and improved upon in time.
That might seem like something of a backhanded compliment, especially when it gives the impression that this is a collection of fragments that rarely coalesces into something more than the sum of its parts, but that’s not entirely true. The biggest overall benefit that comes from this is actually in the production, in which the cues from modern R&B and hip-hop mightn’t seem all that obvious (apart from the watery, blurred-over electronics of Boy and Cross), but melding it in gives everything a sharpness that’s a nice to change in tack from pop-punk’s typically rounded execution. And that can be especially handy when Woes’ actual pop-punk framework rarerly, if ever, deviates from the mid-paced, largely bouncy variant that’s been seen plenty of times before. Here though, there’s a sense of lithe flow fed into guitar passages on Fancy and Mess that see the crystalline R&B production get the most mileage, while the meat of the execution makes use of heavier tones for a bigger sense of presence and atmosphere. It helps that Woes know their way around a hook, particularly when the two sides don’t mesh as well as they should (see the rather leaden transitions that occur on Money Shoe), as even on a track like Suburbs that’s probably the least original effort here in its rather cut-and-dry pop-punk framework, it’s at least catchy enough to be a worthwhile inclusion here.
That’s where the foundations lie, and while Woes are able to make this work to an impressively solid amount, going deeper into the writing seems to be where the most work is needed for everything to properly synergise overall. And to be fair, it’s not exactly Woes’ fault that it doesn’t work as well as it could; the general themes pertaining to their own struggles while trying to get this band off the ground – be they financial problems, strained relationships and having nothing to fall back on – could have workability with a more narrative-driven structure, but there’s a lack of concrete framing here that makes Woes’ ambitions fall rather flat. Whether it’s in isolation or as a whole body of work, this doesn’t feel all that different from bog-standard pop-punk thematics, and when there’s more below the surface to prevent that and it isn’t used, it feels like a band not running at their full potential. Particularly on a song like Mess which plays to a general air of self-deprecation with greater details coming as auxiliary window-dressing, the depth of Woes’ intentions aren’t being fully represented, and for an album that goes out of its way to sound distinct and different, that can feel like corners have been cut overall.
It’s the main reason why Awful Truth succeeds as a collection of ideas more than a full album; the effort has been made in places and laid down accordingly, but there’s not enough overall for everything to connect and feel complete. As for what is here, though, Woes do look to be branching out into some interesting new directions within pop-punk, and when it all works, the wheels are certainly in motion to bring something fresh to a genre that’s been starved of it for a while. That’s not to say that they’re the outright saviours of pop-punk or anything, but they’re putting in the work to make themselves noticed, and regardless of whether or not it totally pans out on this album, that deserves some recognition regardless.
For fans of: WSTR, Seaway, Fall Out Boy
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Awful Truth’ by Woes is released on 28th June on UNFD.