City Lights are exactly what I needed to hear. Their newest release, The Way Things Should Be, is a love letter to classic pop punk that integrates new-school styles flawlessly. They manage to nail twelve amazing punk songs that never feel like retreads of the same song and prove the band’s prowess for writing beautiful melodic punk. This record fits absolutely perfectly against the biggest albums of the genre from the golden age of pop punk from 2001-2003.
However, it is this sense of style that is the album’s most endearing aspect, as well as its biggest hindrance.
City Lights are a five piece from Columbus, Ohio, that play perfectly into the pop punk and hardcore scene. Their sophomore LP, The Way Things Should Be is a success for the group that doesn’t stray too far from their past releases, but perfects the sound. What results is an amazing collection of songs that deliver a relentless wall of melodic guitar, honey dipped into the hardcore genre.
Each song is one memorable guitar riff after another, dressing down the harder break downs that occasionally appear (“Promises”). The drumming keeps pace frantically and offers some impressive pedalling. As I listened to The Way Things Should Be, each song on the album sounded like it could be a single and constantly kept reminding me of New Found Glory’s legendary self-titled album.
That though, is my biggest complaint against the record: It sounds like it is ten years too late to the game. If you placed The Way Things Should Be against anything from MXPX, New Found Glory or Alkaline Trio circa 2001, it would sound like one of the albums of the year that fans would still be singing along to today in their thirties… or whatever.
While that is the best compliment I can give the album, it’s also the biggest slight against it. This is extremely well tread territory and nothing here sounds extraordinarily new. There is very little experimentation towards a unique sound for the band. If anything, it feels like something that has always been around in your CD collection. It’s not terrible, it just doesn’t make the album stand out as much as it could.
Lyrically, the album is light years beyond many of their contemporaries in the genre. Each song belts out anthems of lost loves, betrayal of close friends and commentary on the scene at large. For a pop punk record, it might be one of the darkest, in that it tends to dig deep and fight back. In “Jeremy’s Song”, singer Oshie Bichar lashes out, “Why is it that the closest of friends / Sometimes are first to lose faith / And the first to betray / Think twice before you talk down to me / I’ll make you sorry you ever did”.
However, for as dark as the lyrics can get, they’re balanced out by the hopeful dreaming and call to believe in yourself that we’ve come to expect from the pop punk genre of late. The album also never really takes itself too seriously. During “The Dark Side”, Bichar sings out various phrases from the Star Wars saga (“You were supposed to be the chosen one!”). Although Bichar belts out a powerful performance with his singing, he can find the growl and screaming of the hardcore genre to punch up a few notes when it’s necessary. This aspect is sparsely used and really adds the power to a song when it is.
The Way Things Should Be is poised to be one of the memorable albums in the pop punk scene and hopefully helps to spearhead City Lights much, much further into their careers. This is a sound that is both tragically nostalgic and impressively cohesive and strong. If you’ve been itching for an album to take you back to the highlight of the pop punk genre, this is what you’ve been waiting for. Though it feels like it was released in the wrong decade, it’s unrelentingly powerful and unapologetic. The Way Things Should Be is here to stay.
by Kyle Schultz