Pop punk is something of a loaded term these days. For most, it either brings to mind chart-botherers like Paramore or All Time Low, or worse: bands that play recycled New Found Glory riffs over misogynistic lyrics and think pop punk needs to be “defended”.
This is a shame, because, although many may disagree, the basic foundation of mixing the energy and pace of punk rock with more melodious elements is a sound one. And the artists who stick to that basic formula usually create music that’s far more enjoyable than the former two perceptions of pop punk. Hot Mass is one such artist, and exemplify this on their debut, Nervous Tensions.
Hot Mass reminds one primarily of a more upbeat, less complex and morose version of The Menzingers. The heartland rock influences are clearly there, with the emotional heft in Rhys Jenkins’ vocal delivery.
Opener I Think I’m Done begins this thirty minute opus in full punk rock swagger, with simple, pounding riffs for most of the track, although it does experiment with melody during its bridge. There’s a clear 1980s college rock influence on Nervous Tensions, especially in the jangling guitars of tracks like Dead Skin and Old Friend.
The important thing is, bringing in these outside influences still leaves room punk pace, something many “pop punk” groups often forget.
Searching for the Man is ostensibly a blistering, fast-paced track, but has some interesting vocal melodies; although at under two minutes they’ve been and gone before the listener has had a chance to register them.
Control, the longest track on Nervous Tensions at five minutes, keeps things interesting due to its slowing things down almost to balladry in its opening moments. Although it does build into a more progressively heavy and noisy track as it goes on, it keeps soaring well above what punk has any right to, and barely moves past being mid-paced. It even has an outro! The nerve!
This outro introduces the penultimate and final tracks, Get Better and Oh Well, which bring things to a climactic and energetic end, bringing the lightning fast, yet intriguing and clever Nervous Tensions to a satisfying end.
Although Nervous Tensions could be criticised for its sameness throughout, as a listening experience it merely comes across as being consistently upbeat and switched on, because of the pace and energy present in these ten tracks. Despite this, some more variety would have been nice.
Some may not even consider Hot Mass a pop punk group because of the connotations of the term now; however, they certainly embody many of the best traits of pop music and punk rock with clear passion and energy. Hot Mass also prove a band like them can be punk, pop, and still smart.
Standout Tracks: Control, Oh Well
For Fans Of: The Menzingers, Gnarwolves, Descendents
Written by: Alan Cunningham