Monday, April 23, 2012

Album Review: Hampshire - Ocean State Stories

Album Rating: B
Allow me to preface this review by saying that I am falling out of love with the younger, more accessible side of the pop punk spectrum.  Perhaps my inability to connect with the usual, humorless lyrical themes (girls, personal relationships, hating town, etc.) is what repels me from the genre and a lot of its popular acts (The Story So Far, Man Overboard, and Handguns, to name a few), or maybe the sheer redundancy of pop punk is finally getting to me.  That being said, Providence, RI’s Hampshire proves that there are still bands of the sort that are capable of catching my attention.  Hampshire’s debut full-band EP, Ocean State Stories, revives the sound from pop punk’s glory days in the late 90s and early 2000s, paying homage to all of the right influences.

“Just turn back around before I plant my fist right into your skull,” starts “Windshield,” immediately striking the listener with classic, angst-filled charm through its muffled entrance.   As one of the faster tracks, it kicks off the EP with undeniable fervor and bitter, confrontational lyrics which, at times, sound as if they are straight out of 18-year-old Jesse Lachey’s notebook.  John Almonte’s vocals ring with authenticity on the track and capture the quintessential “old-school” pop punk feel, while guitarist Dan Bianco offers lower vocal harmonies as well as occasional yells that further the variety and energy.

“Interstate” follows as the second and best track on the EP, despite being a somewhat cliché, “let’s drive the fuck away from this town” anthem.  The song has “Saves the Day” written all over it, (unsurprisingly so, as the band covered “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” when I saw them play an acoustic set back in December) and is all the better for it.  This track will bring a wave of nostalgia over any pop punk purists with its acute familiarity and classic-sounding lines such as, “Providence looks better in our rearview mirror.” 

Unfortunately, the first two tracks are the EP’s best offerings, but that is not to say that the three remaining songs do not have their memorable moments.  “I Hope,” for example, is a direct shot at part of the Providence music scene, which is plagued with generic metalcore acts.   Almonte vents his disgust at the falseness of the scene and its members, but unfortunately does so in a less-than-eloquent manner.  The energy and emotion is undeniably there, but the liberal use of “the f-word” ends up detracting from the track’s message, rather than intensifying it. 

“Moss Lane” and “To Grow” slow the EP down, using a more introspective lyrical approach that does not work as well for Hampshire.  Melodramatic lyrics such as, “It gets to the point where I don’t want to wake up at all,” while honest, are simply too much to handle at times, but admittedly, I still find myself singing along.  This catchiness redeems much of enjoyment lost due to the sappy nature of the tracks, but does not keep the two songs from being the weakest on the EP. 

Despite ending on a somewhat sour note, Hampshire’s Ocean State Stories is an overall enjoyable affair.  Hopefully, the band will recognize what does and does not work for them, and continue to follow the route of throwback pop punk revival.  Their instrumental delivery is en pointe and features all of the necessary elements of the genre, proving that with a continuation of the tired-and-true lyricism and direct approach of tracks such as “Interstate” and “Windshield,” Hampshire are more than capable of producing great releases in the future.  

Bandcamp (Free EP!)

Track Listing:
1. Windshield
2. Interstate
3. Moss Lane
4. I Hope
5. To Grow

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