Off With Their Heads - In Desolation
Release Date: June 8, 2010
Record Label: Epitaph
Ryan Young should expect plenty of hugs from now on. The brutally honest lead singer of Minneapolis punk band Off With Their Heads unapologetically spills his guts in every unsettling way on the band's fourth full-length and Epitaph debut, In Desolation. Be warned: for as tightly melodic as it seems to be, this isn't sugar-coated pop-punk. Young viciously assails each word he harbors resentment for, with plenty of gritty honesty and good-natured humor, like a punk rock Fresh Prince. He doesn't shy away from tough terrain, like pharmaceutical reliance, parental abuse or inheriting the traits of which we vehemently wish we hadn't. Containing the aggression of your average Dillinger Four album, the melody of Teenage Bottlerocket and the personal complexity of Fat Mike, In Desolation is the band's tightest and best record yet. For those fearing it's now "too overproduced," it has about as much polish as D4's C I V I L W A R had; all it has done is heightened the band's classic punk-oriented sound.
Right from the beginning, Young lets us know he isn't exactly walking on sunshine. In fact, like Fresh Prince, he's had a rough go and tries to put a, um, well... okay, it's not entirely positive, per se. "I've been watching myself, turning from bad to worse ... If I can just get away from my shadow, I'm in the clear." Obviously, the narrative is a man possessed by his own demons and what starts off as a ravenous hook wrapped around a time bomb becomes the vengeance-seeking "Their Own Medicine," a doozy that hankers for wielding merciless pain upon those who inflict it in the first place. "Trying to Breathe" sprinkles a dose of therapy to all the anxiety before the old-school-friendly "ZZYZX" starts a fire in the middle of the circle pit.
In Desolation not only delivers a walloping 34-minutes of Midwestern-bred punk rock with a dose of Descendents-like melody on top of Bay Area production, it's an achievement in overall storytelling as well. Not just for the band, but for the entire genre, which suffers from a lack of real variety at times. Simply put, with bands like Korn and Three Days Grace constantly penning hook-laden rock songs about their constant psychoanalytic ordeals, it is refreshing to see Young's straightforward candidness come forth in such a relatable manner. "I do all I can do to keep from being awake," he refrains on "All I Can Do"; "I hate every second of the goddamn day," he shouts on "Trying to Breathe." Fuck the poetic process - the best way you can let somebody know how you really feel is through the simplest language possible.
If Young's rough exterior begins to wear on you halfway through, no cause for alarm. Despite such hard-to-swallow entries like "Old Man," tracks such as "I Need You," "I Just Want You To Know" and the tender "My Episodes" show that the eternal cure-all in any recovering addict's life is infinite love. "I've come too far to be this unhappy / I'm just happy right now that your arms are around me." Not the typical song you're likely to find on most punk releases, however this time around, it's a genuinely sober recount that shows Young's now-infamous vulnerability on full display. He's not speaking on behalf of the victims, the addicted or the broken-down - these songs can be read in all lights as simple lullabies and confessions for the times we are weak, frustrated and at a loss. By the time the record finds that pot of gold, you feel good for hearing it all pour out in such an aggressive and timely fashion.
Not only do the melodies click on all levels, but the pacing of the record steers every sentiment Young has to sing in the best direction it can go. It's not always the way we might like it individually, however Young tears and shreds and coarses like blood in the veins of a man who's had enough. By the time the wisely-chosen closer "Clear the Air" echoes its final notes, there's a slim hint of irony peeking out the medicine cabinet. Whether the album's final line is intended to be ironic or foreshadowing is up to how you hear it as a listener, but one thing is clear: whatever desolate place Off With Their Heads once found themselves in is about to get mighty crowded with hungry ears and open arms.
Never would have thought to throw in a comparison to Fat Mike's "complex" personality, but fuck. It works! Really well-written review that describes exactly how I feel about this album. Fuckin' great stuff!
God, I love the hooks on this record. The melodies are awesome. Should be noted that if you dig all of their older stuff...The only difference is the greater production value.
Definite top runner for my album of the year, thus far. Perhaps-not-so-ironically, it's right alongside the Wonder Years' Upsides.
Good Album. However, their previous effort, From the Bottom, remains my favorite. Kind of see it as the pinnacle of a marriage between punk and pop punk. So easy to listen to...every song is catchy, fast, and emotionally driven. Definitely give it a listen if you enjoyed this album.