Dropout Year – The Way We Play
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: April 7th, 2009
Let’s be honest and say that Maryland is known for their crab cakes and football. Or, at least I heard that somewhere before. Regardless though, in recent years, Maryland has spurned a Mogwai-like affinity for pop-punk music. Hailing from Owings Mills, which is known for housing the Baltimore Ravens headquarters and a substandard shopping mall, Dropout Year could throw a baseball to their neighbors, All Time Low, who are from Towson. And, oddly enough, proximity on a geographic scale can translate to proximity on a musical scale as well.
In this genre, people sometimes mistake good music for ingenuity and originality. And, as the average age of this fan base gets younger and younger while steadily leveling out, people will often forsake new material and opt for things that sound familiar. When All Time Low burst into picture a few years ago, there was nothing groundbreaking or deftly original about their music. Alex Gaskarth has a distinguishable, yet powerful, voice and I think that, after listening to Dropout Year, we’ll continue to see that same platform of music being made. However, let me put this out there now and say that Dropout Year are a quality band with some incredible potential. I don’t use that word to be patronizing or back-handed, but rather to be positive about their music. They play their instruments cleanly and accessibly. Lead vocals, by Steve Reter, are akin to Gaskarth’s in an almost uncanny way. But, it goes without saying that after listening to their new EP, The Way We Play, I can’t help but feel like I just spent a half hour listening to All Time Low, circa 2007.
The EP starts with “This Notebook”, an instantly catchy and infectious track. The guitar riff and drums are instantaneously pleasing and when the vocals get brave and we hear “So now I tip-toe in a new direction,” one can be giddy with excitement for the rest of the record and a newer, more original sound. What one gets is some amazingly catchy, pop-punk music without a new direction. It’s full of whoa-oh-like gang vocals and feel good tunes, but it’s nothing fresh and innovative. With production from Rob Freeman (Hit the Lights, Cobra Starship), this album takes on a mash-up attitude by sounding like Hit the Lights, All Time Low and Mayday Parade, all at the same time. “Mile Marker” is second and I almost expected to hear the beginning of HTL’s “Save Your Breath” based on the instruments and intro. As you get deeper into the song, you hear “cause the mile marker is bringing me home,” which will bring All Time Low’s, So Wrong, It’s Right, to immediate mind. “Counting Down” is a track that starts out on a “Girls Do What They Want” by The Maine path and rolls along with a “Tell Me Where You Are” by Hit the Lights vibe. There are, however, a few more original tracks such as “Pretty You” and even some of “As You Wish” that help salvage hope for music that travels the unbeaten path.
In the end, my critique of them wouldn’t be that they don’t play good music. In fact, they play some of the more refreshing and accessible pop-punk out there. It’s clean and crisp and the production makes for a great listen. My critique would be that it’s nothing that a listener hasn’t heard before. As a fan, we want to put Dropout Year on and hear them play. Instead, we turn on the new EP and hear Dropout Year sound like the bands we were hoping they’d branch away from.