Knuckle Puck — 20/20 (9/18/20)
This is the third full-length from Chicago pop-punk band Knuckle Puck. I’ve been following these guys since their While I Stay Secluded EP in 2014. I found a lot of promise in their music but I always struggled with the brash shouted singing style of lead singer Joe Taylor. It wouldn’t be a problem for me but, listening back, I think I didn’t connect with a lot of their songs because they pushed a more aggressive sound while falling short on the melodic reward.
I always felt like I was on the edge of really loving these guys. Their heavy delivery showed tons of feeling and the overall sound was right up my alley but I just couldn’t find a song to get me hooked. Their last album, 2017’s Shapeshifter felt like it took on a slightly softer and more accessible approach than their debut full-length Copacetic.
While the single “Gone” became my favourite song of theirs I didn’t feel like the rest of the album was a step forward from their last. In fact, I think most fans will tell you Copacetic is their best album. All I know is I didn’t take much from either of them in the long run and that at least their first one had a little more grit to it.
As tends to be the case with bands, Knuckle Puck continues to clean up their sound as they progress in their career. This third album is their most easily listenable group of songs to date. I know a lot of pop-punk fans don’t like when these bands start to lose their edge, but I’ve always been a fan of a clean sound. Of course I want some heavy stuff but you’ve got to give me something to sing along to, and this album has plenty of that.
And they still rock pretty hard. It’s less angry but I think they were aiming for a more upbeat group of songs espcially in these trying times.
The opening title track is a stunning example of some of the inspiring anthems to be found. The chorus is full of conviction and it has that free-spirited pop-punk attitude to it.
Cause I can finally see clearly
As if my vision’s 20/20
That everything is temporary
So shred the proof and burn the money
You can hear the improvement in Taylor’s vocals, even compared to their last album. I’d say one of the band’s biggest selling points is the back-and-forth between himself and co-vocalist/guitarist Nick Casasanto. The guys sound similar but they have their tiny nuances that set them apart.
It allows them each to give their all for their lines and then take a breather while the other one does their part. Of course, that’s not an issue when it comes to recording an album, but the split performance pays off massively in the live setting and it just adds another dynamic to the songs in general.
“Sidechain” is another must-hear song. Similar to the free-spirited appeal of “20/20,” this one feel like it’s telling you to leave behind the bullshit in your life and get yourself away from the stuff that’s holding you back. The best pop-punk, to me, inspires a hunger for life, and this song uses its emotional urgency to drive that feeling home.
The rock-strong “Into The Blue” continues to search for something greater, painting this image of performing a “swan dive from 20,000 feet above it all.” It’s a definite stand-out with its driven hook that hits with an intensity that complements the image of the long fall.
There’s not a song on this album that doesn’t hold some strength to it, but I’m definitely not as crazy about some of these. Singles “Tune You Out,” “RSVP,” and “What Took You So Long?” each hold a solid foundation but really lack in delivering the real feeling. I find the more breezy arrangements of the late-album tracks “Green Eyes (Polarized),” “True North,” and “Miles Away” to be much more endearing.
There’s a real pep to “Earthquake,” the most overt love song of the album. Again, a solid foundation with a big heart, but it’s not especially exciting and it actually sounds like it could fit right in on the last Neck Deep album. It also sounds a bit like the great summer single from Seaway called “Big Vibe.” I’ll admit though, this song makes me feel pretty good.
I’ve mentioned some good stuff on this album but there is nothing quite like “Breathe.” It’s the album’s third single and the one they rightfully put the money into for a nice music video, because it is truly something else.
They bring on the one and only Derek Sanders of Mayday Parade as a feature in the bridge which just adds to the song’s impact. They could have done it without him though and it would still be an absolute classic.
It’s honestly the best pop-punk song of 2020. It’s not often that a song will come around that gets me quite as hooked as I have been with this one. It’s a shining example of the advantages Knuckle Puck has with both Taylor and Casasanto splitting vocals. This is the type of song I want to hear more of from them.
I’m a firm believer in the power of a good music video and it might just be my favourite music video of the year as well. The straight-armed singing by Taylor, Casasanto, and Sanders is incredibly unique and refreshing. It seems kind of awkward at first with them just standing there not expressing themselves with their hands, but it ultimately was an amazing call by whoever made that decision for the video. The use of the mirrors is also fabulous and the constant slow in-and-out zoom of the camera is a simple and effective way of moving with the song.
It’s a tremendously powerful uplift of a song that encourages you to take a deep breath when all else seems a mess. A good message for the year that is 2020.