I’m calling it – pop punk may have died down in the 2010s, run into the ground by sheer listener fatigue and an overload of Monster-fuelled irony, but for some reason I’ve got a hunch, likely shared by many, that the genre is going to experience a resurgence in the coming years.
It’s been kept barely alive in the mainstream consciousness over the years on YouTube, the home now of every indie band, with help from cover bands who never got over the Punk Goes Pop series and Gen X/Y kids commenting “anybody still listening to this in 2021?!” on every fucking hit song from their youth. That said, it also owes its continued existence to bands like Night Skies & Visions, which released their latest EP, “Sugar, Spice, and Some Things Nice” this year. It’s always nice to know that in these genre-fluid times with musicians shifting and discarding sounds, bands like Night Skies are staying true to their pop punk roots. Pop punk doesn’t feel as mainstream these days as it used to, but to wear out an old adage even further, pop punk’s not really dead, is it? It never really died.
Just past its teething years, Night Skies hasn’t changed its sound much since it settled on its current frontwoman, Celyn Chow, after her predecessor Resya Rahman moved on to different pastures with Margosa. The band refined its sound over the years with better production, recording, and songwriting, but it’s still the same pop punk animal it’s always been.
“Sugar, Spice, and Some Things Nice” feels like a love letter to pop punk of the last decade, with songs that sound like they could have come straight out of 2015. A relatively relaxed trip, the five-song EP is the most cohesive work the band has produced yet. It’s anthemic and full of earworm choruses, and the quality of its production and mixing is certainly higher than their previous works, though to my ear vocals could stand to sit a little further in front; solid as the singing is, I can’t exactly make out what most of the words are. That may just be a me problem, but it’s getting somewhat in the way of my enjoyment.
The EP starts strong with “Saturday Night”. It’s a banger and the EP’s star single that starts with that oh-so-familiar sound of filter-swept drums and aggro guitars a la Paramore’s “Ignorance”, before settling down into Chow’s smooth vocals over relaxed rhythms by drummer Dini Azri Rahman. It’s a song about getting high on a Saturday night, and anthemic as it may be, the whole track does feel like a smooth ride to ganjatown. That, or it’s just the power of suggestion. Bassist Vicky Febrinata Ramadhan definitely sounds like he’s having fun here as well, as his bass sits nicely nearer the front with strong lines and catchy fills.
The next song, “Temporary Guide”, is an anthemic track with possibly the strongest chorus of the EP. It also feels like the most pop rock track of the lot and the sweetest-sounding, and I can see it being played as a ballad; the chorus lodged itself in my head after just a couple of plays. Guitarists Adam Yang and Timothy Kwang do solid work on this track, and the subtle vocal harmonies towards the end are a nice touch as well.
The third track, “Luka Dan Benci”, has done the best with listeners, for reasons including that it’s the band’s first Malay-language song. It’s the first track in the EP to feature strings a little more heavily, giving it a nice jiwang touch. Chow also shows no signs of struggling with the words’ delivery. Its arrangement is jiwang as hell, for sure, but that’s no criticism. It knows what it wants to do, and does it well; the guitars make sure that it doesn’t dive into overly maudlin territory (the delayed guitar lines in the second verse also really scratch a part of my brain I can’t name or say much about beyond “yeah, I like that shit”).
Good as the EP is, the fourth track, titled in classic pop punk fashion “Drunk Cruising Through The Devil’s Intestines”, is honestly my favourite. It’s a jock jam from start to finish and is really just great fun, with ball-grabbing blast beat verses and the kind of aggressive, pseudo-angry choruses I personally look for in pop punk. Really hard to go too far wrong with lyrics like “Fuck this place/Fuck your face/What are you doing anyway?” – the whole track has A Day To Remember vibes, and I’m all for it. It doesn’t need unclean vocals and is really good as is, but maybe…? Unless? Nah, it’s good.
The EP ends on a sweet note with the aptly titled “Candy Store”. It’s almost saccharine-sweet in delivery, likely by intention, and jumps into its verse with barely any preamble beyond a strong and brief guitar intro. I’m always a sucker for clear, ringing guitars, and they continue well into the verse. The chorus is also classic pop punk material (“We’re all walking a tightrope/You can say what you want and/Do what you want to”).
“Sugar, Spice, and Some Things Nice” is possibly Night Skies & Visions’ best work so far. It’s not terribly innovative as far as pop punk goes, but innovation isn’t always what you look for with the genre. The EP’s a solid, comfortable outing with no stutters or stammers, an almost-retro work that really makes me look forward to when this pandemic ends and we can all go mosh at shows again.