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Album review: Graduating Life – II

California’s Graduating Life score straight-As on the rousing pop-punk of new album II.

The brainchild of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, Graduating Life deal in a sometimes gruff, sometimes slick take on pop-punk. But whereas recent Kerrang! cover stars Machine Gun Kelly and KennyHoopla have been throwing the pop-punk sound all the way back to the early 00s, the formula behind Graduating Life’s music is more complex. There’s plenty of Say Anything-esque poeticism going on across new LP II, but so too are there nods from Bart to acts as diverse as The Academy Is…, Jeff Rosenstock and twenty one pilots. And no matter what musical avenue the band wander down on this album, they always stumble across a win.

Opening track Photo Album’s decision to contrast jaunty instrumentation with dark lyrics suggests the record is very much headed down the Say Anything-meets-Jeff Rosenstock path, which would be perfectly fine in and of itself, but then Graduating Life mix the neon-inflected alt.pop of early twenty one pilots with pop-punk on the excellent In The Back. Similarly, Crushed_Smothered springs a surprise as it takes a turn away from pop-punk towards a raucous, synth-driven rock’n’roll mid-section that sets the scene for a rollicking conclusion. There’s also room for a ballad or two, with emotional penultimate track 19 Stars characterised by euphoric guitars and an outro full of na nas, while closing acoustic number I Wrote You This Song is demonstrative of the charm and heart on offer from Bart throughout.

Cumulatively, it’s a brilliant collection of emotive punk rock, and one which sees Graduating Life blend the familiar with something a little different. Come the year end, expect II to graduate at the top of the pop-punk class.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Say Anything, Motion City Soundtrack, The Academy Is…

II is released on July 9 via Pure Noise Records

Posted on July 6th 2021, 12:15p.m.
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