ALBUM REVIEW: Magnolia Park – ‘Halloween Mixtape II’

Artwork for Magnolia Park’s ‘Halloween Mixtape II’

They’re a precocious bunch, Magnolia Park. Although they outright dismissed being a TikTok band on last year’s Baku’s Revenge, they certainly carry themselves like one, namely through a steady stream of releases where the viral properties speak for themselves. Just a couple of months ago, they release the pair of EPs Moon Eater and Soul Eater, now following it up with a sequel to their breakout Halloween Mixtape. And the thing with all that is, most of the time, artists would really risk cannibalisation of their output with that much material, but Magnolia Park seem totally equipped to avoid it. Ignoring how, yes, there’s a bit of crossover between the EPs and this in tracklisting, they’re operating on a plane of super-modern rock and pop-punk that’s very remixable in its overall goals. There’s a lot of permutations of Magnolia Park to explore, which seems to be the philosophy behind this release and the distances it goes.

Obviously that sets things up for a bit of a mixed bag, but pleasingly, Halloween Mixtape II does tend to hold its own. As much as Magnolia Park typically do, anyway; they aren’t redefining too much beyond how contemporary it can feel at the edges. Honestly, the preconceptions of how a mixtape feels aren’t here nearly as much, seeing as any slapdash scrabbling-together is dispensed of completely. Instead, it’s another batch of songs perfectly poised to fit into Magnolia Park’s big-budget, high-gloss oeuvre. They’ve routinely had some of the greatest successes in making that sound impactful, a far cry from many of their modern pop-punk peers (a lot of whom seem to have gone AWOL now their corporatised shtick has been caught onto, funnily enough).

Honestly, if you’re going to view this through the lens of a mixtape and not just another album, the main thing you’ll find is how its list of features isflooded with TikTok and SoundCloud artists that you’ve probably never heard of. The one exception is nothing,nowhere. on Breathing, absolutely the standout in terms of slobberknocker hooks, for which the brute force alongside the profile of its guest star can’t be a coincidence. And even then, it’s not like Joe Mulherin a force of personality against Josh Roberts, who has a habit of magnetising any and all attention towards himself with how enormous his voice is. It’s not something that the others are too equipped to deal with, either;Kailee Morgue does well enough on Antidote, but there’s rarely a place for Ethan Ross to show much prowess on either Do Or Die or Animal, and neither TX2 nor 408 contribute much on Life In The USA and Manic respectively that Magnolia Park themselves couldn’t have managed.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a grand issue when Magnolia Park themselves remain solid. Specifically, they show an impressive breadth in how cleanly transferable their airtight melodic instincts are, on a crop of tracks that tend to lean towards their radio-rock and even nu-metal sides. They’ve not jettisoned pop-punk entirely, and it’s still probably where they’re most uniformly strong—when you’ve got hooks like those on The End: Emo Nite Rhapsody and Manic, it’s hard to beat—but it’s the fact that Magnolia Park were never at the forefront of sonic revolution to begin with that makes this more palatable. It’s different to some butt-rock no-names who’ve never left Three Days Grace’s shadow; Magnolia Park’s efforts are less exasperatingly limited, if only be a ceiling that’s more pliable. Yeah, there are hints of TikTok-ish beats on Dreams or Animal that nightcore-for-the-new-generation producers like Odetari have found success with, but on the whole, a steamrolling chorus is worth its weight in gold when beefed-up to the extent of Breathing or Loved By You.

It’s the lack of high thematic expectations that really keep Magnolia Park in their safe zone, and how simple it is for their existing sweeping sentiments to be ported over with little change. Other than some seasonally-appropriate window-dressing on Haunted House or Candles or Fell In Love On Halloween (or any of the Halloween Tip interludes, naturally), much of this is cut-and-dry Magnolia Park. It’s seldom deep, but that’s always been the case. The emotional fervour is what matters, and Roberts as a frontman delivers that in spades, pretty much at all times. Although, there is still a limit, where it might seem like a good idea to explore what that is on a side-project like this, but it still doesn’t turn out great. It’s Life In The USA that does it on this one, a sunburnt slacker-rock track regurgitating the usual tropes about how shitty America currently is, with the most novel twist being calling Florida governor Ron DeSantis gay. Ironically, there’s a very narrow window in which Magnolia Park’s extreme broadness lands, and this ain’t it. You get way more mileage from Roberts’ intense prostrations on Antidote or Breathing, with a skin-ripping intensity you just wouldn’t find to this extent elsewhere.

It’s a feat that’s always been impressive from Magnolia Park, and being able to pull it off so regularly with little dilution only adds to the notion that they deserve to be on modern pop-punk’s frontline. They’re a prime example of not having to truly innovate when you’re doing it better than almost everyone else, even on what might be seen as a fairly inconsequential release that might even go overlooked, all things considered. It shouldn’t though, because there’s still a lot that’s worthwhile on Halloween Mixtape II that, had it been packaged in a ‘proper’ album, would smash forth into scene with few stipulations. Plus, it’s just good to have a band like this making overblown, scream-along material that actually feels impressive, rather than being smothered under the weight of formula. Long may it continue for Magnolia Park, for whom the keys to domination are now fully in their possession.

For fans of: Hot Milk, Point North, Stand Atlantic

‘Halloween Mixtape II’ by Magnolia Park is released on 27th October on Epitaph Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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