For as much as pop-punk’s mid-2010s period is viewed as one of its halcyon eras, not a lot has really been discussed of the fallout, arguably an even more important talking point overall. When the bottleneck was removed entirely and it felt as though a new band of upstarts was being projected for great things every other week, any idea of sustainability was off the table. And now, a decade later in another of the genre’s fallow periods, we’re left with the overspill—a load of bands scrambling to maintain some precarious footing, often at the expense of what anyone really liked about them to begin with. In hindsight, it was a model that couldn’t last, and the consequences of that have shown themselves in earnest with just how many of those acts have either fallen off entirely, or have continued to slog forward with whole bodies of work that don’t even bear remembering.
Of course, there’s always going to be the ones who’ll stick it out, i.e. the biggest ones. The Story So Far or Neck Deep aren’t going anywhere, despite having their own individual suites of issues in recent years; as the names who were at the crest of the wave, they’re largely fine. But what about Knuckle Puck, a band who weren’t quite to that level, but felt more firmly entrenched in what was ushered in than plenty of their peers? Well, it’s hard to say, because they haven’t exactly been sailing the smoothest of waters either. Copacetic and Shapeshifter were well-liked, but 20/20 felt generally like a non-starter, mostly in the sense that it was caught in the changing tide like so many other pop-punk releases at the turn of the decade. Right now then, it’s kind of up in the air as to where Knuckle Puck are. Among the ones who began life as The Story So Far clones, they did grow into something better, but their days of being true forerunners feel largely behind them, especially with the muted trajectory they’re currently on.
It’s a cautionary tale of pop-punk’s ruthlessness when it comes to cutting back—no matter your perceived value, it only takes the one slip to be caught in the firing line for a routine downsizing. That’s got to be a pretty demotivating reality for Knuckle Puck, who now find themselves stranded in the ever-bloated middle of the pack, where escape back to the upper tiers is much more difficult now. And in all honestly, at this stage, it doesn’t seem like they’re up to it anymore. Losing What We Love arrives as a product of petered-out momentum and—more importantly—dwindled interest, regardless of how much they try to conceal it. A few cranked screws isn’t going to magically revive Knuckle Puck’s rising-star status; if anything, the sense that they’re running in place is more palpable.
Worse still is how, on its own merits, the album is just fine. There are very few considerable highs but Knuckle Puck seldom drop the ball either, averaging out at the kind of passable pop-punk that makes its isolation all the more galling. Without the strength of an entire scene behind it, the mid-ness of Losing What We Love is even more pronounced, as ideas and even certain melodies strike as very routine this far removed. At least that means they’re in a realm of quality, if nothing else. As much as A New Beginning feels wildly inaccurate as a title, the bounce of years past still some decent rip to it; following that, The Tower shows off Knuckle Puck’s slightly darker, harder edges (without falling too far outside of normal service), and October and Out Of Touch represent the pulling-out of some brighter, emo-centric threads.
So far, so Knuckle Puck, then. The suite of recognisable elements is present indelibly, in a way that’s both a blessing and a curse. Yes, Losing What We Love is a pretty good continuation and consolidation of where Knuckle Puck have been heading up to now, but it’s also very limiting as a body of work, shunning a flexibility that might actually be worthwhile to embrace. That’s not to say a complete overhaul—or, heaven forbid, a trend-chasing attempt—is the way to go, but there has to be something more than this. Often, this feels tired and perfunctory, and losing a lot of previous luster that set Knuckle Puck apart from the chancers around them.
And you can tell that there’s a conscious effort made to try and avoid that; there truly is. They’ll try and parlay some of their heavier impulses into a pseudo-post-hardcore mould in Act Accordingly,with screams and everything. Elsewhere, Fool pedestals the more latent emo stylings for a full-on embrace as a rippling, downbeat closing number. And yet, for as commendable as the efforts are, they don’t go far enough to leave the impression that Knuckle Puck want. They’re mostly the expected sidles into genre territory that’s directly adjacent, if not overlapping in spots, and attempts to throw them forth as ‘diversification’ are hugely unconvincing. Because at the end of that day, the pop-punk of a decade ago could also do this; the only difference is that Knuckle Puck’s version is a little more pronounced. But when you still have double-time drums infesting the title track, as the last bastion of ‘serious’ pop-punk ideals that should’ve been the first thing to go, none of this is that new.
It gets to a point where you wish this was more likable for what it is on its face, but it’s just too limited of a listen to get there. When nothing about Knuckle Puck screams out with intrigue anymore, the roteness in its place is hard to properly drill into. Such is the case when writing from a more cynical, negatively honest perspective is supposed to be a shake-up, only to feel back in tune with a slew of similar acts from both their own time and now. And again, it’s not bad per se, but what’s here is not crossing a high bar whatsoever. Joe Taylor’s voice might be able to sell it but it doesn’t project individuality, as it curls into the usual pop-punk shapes coated in the ordinary sandpaper finish. What’s more, when it’s so even-keeled and unremarkable, a line like You & I’s “Think you’re so damn cool with your follower count” rings out as even more cringeworthy than it already is. Four albums in, that’s the kind of sentiment that Knuckle Puck should be mile past, particularly when they were always flagged as one of the scene’s more ‘mature’ purveyors.
But at the same time, it yields something close to a response, which is more than can be said for most of Losing What We Love. Knuckle Puck remain in place on this one, where the lack of beneficial or detrimental effect is honestly the most disappointing outcome imaginable. They’re more than capable of taking a risk, and are in the position where that could at least build up some tread for them, but they don’t in any sense. Therefore, what does this add to the discussion of pop-punk or the scene in the general? Actually, scratch this—what does this add to Knuckle Puck themselves? They’re actively frittering away their longevity, remaining rooted in a specific time and place that doesn’t exist anymore, where all they’re doing is drawing attention to how incapable of greater feats they are. With all the bands in that position who’ve been inexorably lost to time, a fine-yet-unremarkable album alone isn’t going to save Knuckle Puck from a similar fate.
For fans of: The Story So Far, Neck Deep, Like Pacific
‘Losing What We Love’ by Knuckle Puck is released on 20th October on Pure Noise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall