LOUDER REVIEWS: 'Wake Up, Sunshine' - All Time Low
All Time Low are a band who live their lives in high gear. Having spent much of their youth performing sold-out shows all over the world, taking the easy life and resting on their laurels just isn’t in their nature. Even during their supposed year-long sabbatical from music, not only did they headline the UK’s biggest touring festival, they were also concocting the beginnings of what would become their eighth studio album, ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’. And now it is finally out in the world, at a time when some sunshine has never been more necessary. Though the band have already released a successive chain of the tracks on this record as singles over the past few weeks, listening to the album front to back still brings a whole host of festival-ready bangers, and some wonderful surprises, along with it.
A trio of singles signposts the record’s arrival, each filled with a hot, bright virility. Balmy, full-bodied guitars, glinting with a warmth like sunlight are the highlight of ‘Some Kind of Disaster’: the swoop into the chorus is gentle as a lapping wave, but enough to pull a smile from the corners of your mouth. Melodically, the track sets a stark contrast to the lyrics, which are full of the pain and struggle of soul searching- something that all of the band, in particular vocalist Alex Gaskarth, have been grappling with during their (relatively) quiet period of reflection. Bringing a rockier groove to its bassline, ‘Sleeping In’ is the perfect easy-going summer road trip song. Sprinkled with coarser, distorted guitars, the close of the first and final chorus add a dusting of intrigue. But the real delight comes from the pumping pace of the chorus, with its knotty lyrics that are a joy to scream along to once you can master them! Given its live debut at last year’s Slam Dunk Festival, ‘Getaway Green’ encapsulates the youthful vitality that first endeared All Time Low to legions of devoted teenagers- who might be a few years older now, but can still appreciate a bright pop punk guitar and a chorus made for pogoing when they hear one! It is classic, new-age pop punk at its finest, with guitars full of zest, a melodic chorus, and movie-soundtrack-worthy lyrics full of the wonder and liberty of young love.
Those who may have feared, glancing at the upcoming track-listing, that the record was about to take a darker turn are, thankfully, mistaken. Despite its title, ‘Melancholy Kaleidoscope’ opens with electronic warbling that breaks almost instantly into a vivacious melody that is driven by a pulsating synth ducking and weaving deeper in the mix. There is something of the band’s poppier influences in the ambient chorus that floats and flickers with old movie grandeur, yet the chunky bassline in the verses keep at least one foot firmly grounded in rockier territory. Drums then shove their way into prominence on ‘Trouble Is’, leaving the guitar to float along in the background, crowned with a glorious stereo-effect in the second pre-chorus. The lyrics are filled with a soft-centred sweetness, as yet another soaring bridge builds through each rousing drumroll into a sun flare of a final chorus.
For those who want to sink into a myriad of melodies which all fall along the same clean, upbeat pop sensibilities, this record is an absolute dream. Evoking memories of the 2015 record, ‘Future Hearts’, title track ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’s distorted vocals fade into existence, but then the guitars that come thundering through crackle with more rocky bite than one might have been expecting. The hook into the chorus is less strong than some of its fellows on the record, perhaps missing some of the drive that a deeper bass tone may have provided, particularly as the bridge feels as though it is building towards a more guttural punch than ends up being delivered. That being said, for many, the wonderfully delectable guitar tone will be compensation enough for this! True to form, ‘Safe’ feels warm, comfortable and familiar. Pulsating guitars bubble upwards and burst into an elated chorus that the verses seem almost too innocuous to contain, and as, even on a first listen, it is an almost involuntary reaction to reach up and punch the air, it is easy to see this becoming a tear-jerking fan favourite in a matter of months. ‘Clumsy’, again, does what is says on the tin. Searingly bright funky zest ripples out from the slicing opening guitar, with a hip-swinging chorus that is crafted to seamlessly induce bouncing of heads and pounding of hearts. It is infectiously danceable: the vocals sink slightly lower in amongst the melody, indicating that whilst they are still there to be peeled back and revealed, with some glorious images epitomised by the likes of ‘shadows dancing in the ash’, this is, first and foremost a track that buzzes with the vibrancy of the party! The huge, pummelling kick drum feels open and vast at the dawn of ‘Glitter and Crimson’, the twinkling piano notes that cascade beneath the surface bring a touch of the ethereal as its binary opposition. The lyrics in the chorus are endearingly cliché, though the strained vocals on the bridge are packed with sincerity: this is the idealistic portrait of romance that every lovesick teenager craves, and one which it sounds as though lyricist Alex has certainly found.
All Time Low do not reside alone on ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’. The first of two features comes on ‘Monsters (feat. Blackbear)’. This is the most electronically influenced track yet, which walks an awkward line, as the lower vocals aren’t so venomous that they feel jarring against the butter sweetness of the rest of the record, but also, they unfortunately don’t carry a guttural emotional weight. Blackbear’s rap is the middle verse is a pleasant distinction from Alex’s soaring vocals, and while those fans of All Time Low’s rockier beginnings may not be coming back for second helpings, as far as well-constructed pop songs are concerned, this is a radio-ready offering. The second guest invited in to All Time Low’s world of the eternal summer are The Band Camino, who join them for ‘Favourite Place’. A wonderfully arpeggiated guitar that echoes out over an invisible plain, melds into a verse driven by clattering midi drums. Then, All Time Low’s idiosyncratic talent for writing soaring chorus lines comes into play once again, with a shiver-inducing grandeur made to accompany big skies and big dreams. Lyrically, it may not be the strongest on the record, but even down to the faint hum of static in the closing moments, it is hard to believe that this track hasn’t already featured in the climactic moment of a hundred coming-of-age adaptations.
Yet there are some moments where All Time Low deviate from their winning formula of big choruses and bouncing melodies. Left sounding intentionally like a rough-edged demo recording, a weepy guitar moans plaintively in the opening of ‘Pretty Venom’, making it much darker and moodier than much of the record. A delicate xylophone trickles through the despairing vocals: this track lends itself perfectly to darkly aesthetic, rainy summer evenings. Yet another thread than dances through this record is the pairing of two tracks revolving around opposing seasonal imagery. ‘January Gloom (Seasons pt. 1)’s stonkier guitar tone is a delightful mid-tempo stomp, as the previous buttery smoothness is replaced with a slick swagger. Though this does soon dissolve into a fluttering chorus - like a hard toffee with a smooth caramel centre. It’s partner, ‘Summer Daze (Seasons pt. 2)’ is one of the tracks that instantly piques your interest. Low, grumbling guitars packed with stereo-distortion marry with a bass so low and grumbly that you can feel it vibrate the ground around you even at the lowest volume. But of course, the chorus is still bright and blooming, made for running off into the sunset with you beloved at the end of the movie’s final scene.
Though much of this record could easily form the soundtrack to any number of coming-of-age tales of love, friendship, heartbreak and healing, it becomes apparent by the end of ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’s mammoth fifteen tracks, that the story they most wanted to encapsulate is their own. Billowing synths almost sound bittersweet at the final call of ‘Basement Noise’, as though they know that this gloriously idealistic dream is coming to an end. Lyrically this track is the most reflective of them all, casting a longing gaze back at their younger selves with the wistful benefit of hindsight. It may be pure sugar-coated pop, but the sentiment is so potent that it is hard to care that their once beloved guitars take a back seat here- this is an older All Time Low reflecting on their past through the gaze of today.
‘Wake Up, Sunshine’ is, on reflection, a monolith. It sucks you in and holds you there, basking in the glory of fist-pumping choruses, big galloping guitars, and indulgently poppy refrains. Does it call out to the traditional, anger-fuelled pop punk fans, searching for a rallying cry for the rebellion? Probably not. But for so many teenagers whose exploration into music is just beginning, it is albums like this in which they find reflections of themselves through such a beautifully sun-drenched lens, and a sense of escapism into a dream world of endless possibility and the beauty of youthful optimism. For those kids – the romantics, the storytellers and the fluffy dreamers - discovering this record ensures that a lifelong love affair with music is inevitable.
'Wake Up, Sunshine' is out now via Fueled By Ramen.
Check out the video for 'Getaway Green' below, featuring footage from the band's intimate UK shows last month: