By Troy Hasselman, April 4 2019 —
Through their three releases, PUP have made a name for themselves as a pop-punk band that goes beyond the three power chord ex-girlfriend diss tracks that characterize so much of the genre. With their creative song structures, strong level of musicianship, introspective lyrics and innovative music videos that range from a band origin story starring Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame (Guilt Trip), vintage video games (DVP) and choose-your-own-adventure (Old Wounds), PUP have separated themselves from the pack of pop-punk groups, carved out a unique niche and built a rabid and growing fanbase.
This success has not seemed to make the band any happier however, as the subject matter on their third release — the aptly titled Morbid Stuff — veers towards darker territory than the already self-effacing and frustrated material of their past releases.
The title track, which opens the album, outlines the themes of the record with PUP vocalist Stefan Babcock sharing his feelings of anxiety, depression and thoughts surrounding death and the ephemeral nature of life and our relationships. Backing these anxieties is the type of cannonball, child-on-a-sugar-rush instrumentation that has become PUP’s trademark. The track is an absolute banger and serves as an outline for what is precisely the appeal of this band and album. The band vents their deepest fears and concerns and sounds like they’re having the time of their lives while doing so.
While PUP’s work has always dealt with negative emotions, there is a greater level of depth to the frustrations outlined on Morbid Stuff with the band displaying a deeper sense of maturity, both lyrically and emotionally, while maintaining the energy and passion that characterizes their music.
While musical maturity is often critical shorthand for “this punk band bought a delay pedal,” PUP does demonstrate genuine musical growth on this album through the expansion of their songwriting and added instrumentation. Album centrepiece “Scorpion Hill” embodies this growth, beginning with a spare acoustic-backed intro behind Babcock’s vocals before kicking into a shuffling, almost country rhythm before which follows the song through several musical and emotional breakdowns that culminates in an accordion-backed outro that is some of the most lush-sounding music the band has ever recorded. The track exceeds five minutes and is the longest song that PUP has released to date. It recalls the suite-like, sprawling punk of Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor and aptly demonstrates the musical growth the band has made.
Even at the outset of the band’s career they demonstrated a musical virtuosity and understanding for songcraft well beyond that of an average pop-punk band. Each member is an incredible musician in their own right, using their skills unpretentiously by crafting thrilling, visceral music out of unorthodox time signatures and complex guitar figures.
Time will tell if Morbid Stuff will have the replay value and lasting quality that their previous release, 2016’s The Dream is Over, had. At this point, it’s fair to say that PUP has made at least a very good follow-up to a beloved album that shows musical and emotional growth for the band and points towards a strong future for one of the most exciting groups working today.