Every now and then, an album shocks you by how much you enjoy it. Graduating Life is undoubtedly a beast of creativity, making music unlike almost any other artist at the moment. Emotional, erratic and utterly brilliant, II is the type of record that comes around rarely and isn’t appreciated until years after release.
Despite how distinct II sounds, it is undoubtedly and reassuringly familiar. It’s impossible not to compare Graduating Life, the project of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, to Max Bemis and Say Anything‘s Is A Real Boy…, or elements of Jeff Rosenstock. Thompson even sounds like Bemis, straight from the clean vocals to the screams. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t actually listening to Say Anything. While that may sound like a dig at Thompson, I was utterly enthralled by II and how a tempo change thrown into the middle of a song sounded so refreshing, or how much I wanted to fist pump the air on a crowded train.
Thompson proves himself an incredible talent, shredding pop punk riffs that incorporate elements from many areas of punk. Songs jump in tempo (“Crushed & Smothered”) without warning, and slam from piano and acoustic melodies to jarring punk riffs (“Photo Album”), but it never sounds incohesive. And somewhere in the middle are ample amounts of guitar solos that seem to appear right when you hope they will (“Fine”).
The poetic lyrics tell a tale of battling one’s inner demons, and wrestling with stagnation and ego while the people close to you move on to other things, come better or worse.
Album opener “Photo Album” sets the tone by reflecting on a life of difficulty in letting go of those around you (“So they will move and you will stay / The afterlife Seattle rain / It’s getting harder every single day / You’ll make new friends and settle in / Or cry alone like we were kids”).
Alt rock jam “Let’s Make A Scene” finds Thompson in conflict and losing someone close to him who has decided to not to live with him anymore (“Let’s makе a scene just you and me / I was never asking for more than your company / Oh your company, a friend by my side / And in this apartment I feel alive”).
Meanwhile, “Black Skinny Jeans” calls out trolls online who spout nothing but contempt (“And I read the messages that ya sent / Bet you never thought that I’d read them / Goodbye get to leaving”) with Thompson comparing the experience to going to his old home and watching how it’s changed since be became an adult (“I went to my old house to see if it’s the same / I guess they took the trees out but left on the paint”).
II somehow simultaneously treads familiar ground and seems to innovate a genre with the energy it has missed in the last couple of years. Despite the fact that it sounds like the sequel to Is A Real Boy… that Max Bemis never wrote, Bart Thompson manages to infuse enough of himself into the album to keep it from feeling like rehashed territory or a copycat.
Graduating Life has managed to create something incredible and hypnotic that sounds utterly inspired by a scene staple, but brimming with its own life and energy.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has just recently begun to accept the existence of tomatoes.