The Get Up Kids new album is entitled There Are Rules and it would be easy to assume that the band is flying in the face of the title and throwing away any previous rules the band had created for itself. This wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though.
This is the Kansas City quintet’s fifth full length release (they’re still the random band that has always believed in sprinkling EPs, singles, and splits throughout their discography) and their first full length since the band’s reformation in 2008.
The logical line of thinking to follow with this release is that this album is drastically different than the sound the Get Up Kids have developed over the course of their history. That’s essentially true, but that’s always been true about the band. Something to Write Home About was drastically different from Four Minute Mile just like On a Wire was drastically different from Something to Write Home About and so on. What people really mean by this, and it’s something that’s cropped up since On a Wire was released in 2002, is that it sounds different from Something to Write Home About, which was their most well known album and what many consider their definitive sound.
While that may be true, the Get Up Kids as a band has never really been content to stay in one place musically. That’s apparent on There Are Rules. The album is like no other full length album in their discography and for all intents and purposes, this is uncharted territory for them. While they’ve always written functionally different albums before, they’ve never deviated from a pop leaning of indie rock, but that sort of traditional pop influence doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue this time around.
What’s present on this album is a much more atmospheric approach than anything with only a subtle hint of pop-rock. This ideal really gives keyboardist James Dewees a chance to flex his muscles a little differently than on previous albums. Instead of having a more piano sound that was front and center on the Guilt Show, he instead follows a more of a synthesizer approach, which leans towards a Depeche Mode or Joy Division influence. It also gives the band a darker feel than anything they’ve done in the past, which could be unsettling to some long-time listeners.
Also contributing to the darker feel that the album pushes forward is the writing. The band’s song writing has always been a major attribute to the band and nothing is different in that respect on this album. What is different with the writing this time around is the inherent weariness in almost every song. This isn’t a bad thing and it isn’t meant to say that they sound tired either, far from it actually. They’ve been around awhile now and they’re done mincing words and are much more direct this time around. It could be said that they’ve grown up, but that always sounds like a backhanded compliment. Instead, it sounds like they’ve just changed their perspective, which makes them sound just as vital as they did when they were playing songs like “Short” and “Stay Gold, Ponyboy.” That statement can be applied just as well to their sound as well their words too.
The opening song on the album is “Tithe” which signals this shift in perspective. The song itself is further along the lines of post-hardcore than the band has ever presented before. It’s almost claustrophobic with the opening sample, which can either envelope the listener in the album or take them out of it immediately. How someone feels about this first song will tell if they’re really going to get into the album.
The rest of the album doesn’t really hit the same post-hardcore vibe again and settles into more indie rock familiar territory (they are after all still the Get Up Kids), but manages to keep a similar edge found in the opener. Songs such as “Rally ‘Round the Fool” and “the Widow Paris” push this darker vibe forward, while songs like “Regents Court” and “Automatic” keep their pop sensibility and are reasonably upbeat, but cut to the heart lyrically.
There is a definite edge on this album, which is a nice change of pace from their previous album. As solid as their previous two albums were, there was almost a worn out quality to them, like the band was just exhausted playing together for so long. This album definitely feels refreshing and recharged despite an almost sinister tone.
Also, despite Dewees ever evolving presence in the band, the guitar work of Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic still drive the band sonically. This is arguably their most aggressive it’s been since their debut album, the more punk inflicted Four Minute Mile. Jim Suptic also takes vocal lead from Pryor on two songs, which is something that was missing on their last album.
The Get Up Kids have never been a particularly easy band to pin down despite an insistence on doing so by fans, casual listeners, and critics, and this album doesn’t change that. As is par for the course, they attempt to push themselves in another new direction and it’s successful. In There Are Rules, the Get Up Kids have crafted a consistent and rewarding album worthy of their skill.
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