Lagwagon – Hang
Fat Wreck Chords, 2014
Pop-punk (especially the brand championed by Fat Wreck Chords) gets a bad reputation. It’s generally perceived as dumb, low class, and something for teenagers. OK, the teenagers thing is true. I spent my mid-teens fawning over NOFX, Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, and became a disciple of Fat Wreck. Fat Wreck is where I cut my teeth as a music appreciator, and as a result I’m still very much in love with pop-punk and always on the lookout for new bands who put their own unique spin on this ever looked down upon genre. But I also get excited when my old favorites put out new records because somehow, dudes like Joey Cape and Fat Mike never really change. Sure they get older, and maybe they mature (Cape definitely has, Fat Mike is still making his living peddling dick jokes and that’s totally fine!), but ultimately this stuff sounds the same.
There is something very comforting about the way Hang sounds like it could have been made in 2001. The production is cleaner, but it pulls elements and energy from early Lagwagon records like Duh and Hoss. I’m a firm believer that Joey Cape’s more subdued side project Bad Astronaut made him a great songwriter. Lagwagon’s songs were always really good before Bad Astronaut, but afterward they had a newfound depth. Lagwagon’s most recent albums Blaze and Resolve were surprisingly deft affairs, and Cape has continued to hone his craft with solo albums and a pair of solo albums with Tony Sly, whose tragic death in 2012 haunts Hang.
Though Hang isn’t entirely about Sly’s death, the short, heartbreaking acoustic opener “Burden of Proof” makes it seem plain as day and the blistering follow-up “Reign” expounds on the grief. “While you’re leaving/ The rest of us will be here grieving,” Cape sings in his trademark timbre that hasn’t changed a lick in 25 years. It’s one of the most emotionally resonant gut-punches of 2014. Not all of Hang is this grim, however. (In case I totally misread everything, at the very least the emotionally walloping "One More Song" is definitely a tribute to Cape's late friend).There’s a fair bit of heavy melodic hardcore peppered in that’s a bit of a drag (the track “Drag” is actually a perfect example), but tracks like “Burning Out in Style” serve up the levity of clear-eyed pop without giving up any of this album’s hard earned gravitas.
"Burden of Proof"/"Reign"