Grayscale’s Adornment really proved to be a sleeper hit in 2017, the sort of pop-punk album on the fringes of emo that’s not uncommon, but rarely catch the attention at the magnitude that this one did. And looking back on it now, it’s easy to see why, with a very earnest, likable brand of songwriting pulling on all the right threads of Mayday Parade and Real Friends, and a sense of melody that was rooted in a deeper emo richness with all the right melodic beats of 2000s pop-punk nostalgia. It was a simple formula, but pulled off with a level of panache that really made it resonate so heavily with so many, to the point where Grayscale now find themselves bubbling right underneath the upper tier of the current waves of pop-punk and emo. What’s more, that sort of leverage can be crucial with the genre bottlenecks that a band like this constantly has to deal with, and with a more established audience than ever before, Nella Vita has the potential to open up plenty of opportunities for Grayscale to break through that ceiling and hit those heights that so many have been rooting for them to hit.
And to avoid mincing words, they’ve essentially nailed it, made even more impressive with a turn towards electronic pop-rock that has an ear for balance in a way that so few others who make the same leap can manage. That’s praiseworthy enough on its own, but when that comes with next to no compromise in emotionality and melodic composition, there’s a brightness and exuberance that’s been virtually unmatched by any other release in the same vein this year. The overall framework remains as reliably recognisable as ever, but the level of refinement without coming across as overly processed is significant, and it’s the exactly the right way for Grayscale to go about taking a step into modernity without it feeling contrived or cynical.
It’s no great revelation for how they set about doing it either – there’s still an organic core that’s very much noticeable, but in general, the additional synths and production methods bring a colour and shininess that makes for some phenomenally catchy moments. Those synthetic elements definitely get pushed further on tracks like What’s On Your Mind and In My Arms where the thinned-out guitars moulded into shuffling grooves bounce off the dazzling alt-pop synths and crisper percussion, but for the most part, Nella Vita feels much more measured in how it prioritises the more defiant melodies forged from Grayscale’s pop-punk roots. Just Right and Desert Queen do this truly excellently, more than capable of standing on their own as melodic compositions, but being injected with an extra shot of vibrancy from the shimmering production accompaniments. Nowhere does this feel forced either; there’s still more than enough human quality that comes through in Collin Walsh’s down-to-earth vocal performance stripped of the majority of its artifice, and there’s enough space to integrate the extra sonic layers without it being forced or disruptive like on Twilight (My Heaven). And even without those extra bells and whistles, Grayscale have an ear for a hook that’s hard to top, and even with the occasional dud – Asbury is the sort of acoustic pop-punk ballad throwback that honestly could’ve been pruned back without much trouble – the simplicity that’s here without falling to asininity is honestly quite refreshing in how much it sticks. It’s rare than an album like this feels as well-thought-out as it does, but Grayscale manage to hit that bar here.
And while an embrace of that simplicity has had a negative effect on the writing for a lot of other bands, that seems to be rather well mitigated here. The deliberately small, easy-to-work-with template of nostalgia is pretty big factor, but Grayscale manage to sprinkle enough details in to keep things interesting, but also to never lose sight of some very human intentions and spiral into pop-punk performativity that would be oh-so-tempting. The clear address of depth in Asbury and Tommy’s Song is one thing (even if slipping into mawkishness is something they can’t quite seem to avoid yet), but there’s an inherent boldness in opening the chorus of Painkiller Weather with “I loved a girl named Madison / She liked to do heroin” as an accentuation of darker realism that does lend the track some weight. It’s easy to argue that the lyrics on an album like this don’t really matter anyway, and given how much a lot of Nella Vita thrives on pure infectiousness alone, it’s not hard to argue, but the tangible effort made does put the work in and that’s easy to appreciate.
But at the end of the day, it’s not like Grayscale are changing the game at all with Nella Vita; if anything, they’re really only conforming to the trends that have swept through most of modern rock over the past couple of years. It’s in the execution that this album soars though, capturing that contemporary mood and sound without forgoing anything too important to what makes Grayscale themselves, and when they’re bringing something to the table without taking too much away, it’s a net positive overall. It definitely helps that they’ve got a better command of this sound than so many others, and when that translates into a level of slickness and vigour that brings out the best in them, Grayscale have inched ever closer to becoming one of modern pop-punk’s best.
For fans of: The Maine, Mayday Parade, Real Friends
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nella Vita’ by Grayscale is released on 6th September on Fearless Records.