Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Young Hasselhoffs - Dear Departed

Late last year, The Young Hasselhoffs emerged from a decade-long hibernation with Life Got in the Way, one of the greatest "grown-up" pop-punk albums ever made. The title pretty much told the story. If you weren't among the dozens who had heard the band's third album The Obsolete Man upon its initial release in 2011, you might have questioned if this was even the same Young Hasselhoffs you remembered from back in the day. But here's the thing: Life Got in the Way wasn't just more accomplished and mature than its predecessors — it was also better. Any notion that pop-punk is strictly a young persons' game was wiped away when The Young Hasselhoffs released their best album (by far) a quarter-century into their existence. I wouldn't have blamed them if they'd just taken a bow and called it a day, but they went the other way and got busy ascending to the next level. Releasing next month on Mom's Basement Records, Dear Departed is the next step in the band's progression. It is, in the words of drummer Young Phil, "a pop-punk record about death, grief, love, and obsession with an adaption of an Edgar Allan Poe poem as its emotional core." I know, right? Where do I sign up?! 

Dear Departed is ambitious for a pop-punk album, but it's appropriately ambitious for where Matt Stansbury and The Young Hasselhoffs are at in their musical evolution. It's still totally a pop-punk record, yet the sophistication of its musical arrangements and lyrical themes are quite unique for the genre. And while it's a pretty dark album (for the most part), it's nothing close to a downer. Melodic guitars, memorable choruses, and silky-smooth harmonies remain the band's bread and butter. But after flirting a little with the idea of making a mini-symphony out of a pop song (as on the last album's "Pull Me Out of the Scene"), Stansbury more fully embraces such an approach on this release. His songwriting continues to add layers of depth and maturity. And while the arrival of session musicians playing piano, strings, and horns can be a shark-jumping moment for a lot of rock bands, the more elaborate instrumentation serves these songs beautifully. "Hold Me Now" wastes little time getting the album going, exploding into an anthemic chorus before you've even had time to pour yourself a beverage and find a comfortable seat. "It's Been Years" is an interesting reflection on the randomness of fate and utter meaningless of existence —  you know, typical pop-punk stuff. The title track is partially about death but mostly about life. "Beautiful Annabel Lee" is essentially a cover of one of the greatest poems ever written, and it's a wonderfully-realized interpretation. "You Belong To Me" could pass for a happy love song but hints at something far more sinister. The band goes the epic ballad route on "Still Got Time," which closes the album on a more optimistic note. 

The Young Hasselhoffs' ability to push the boundaries of pop-punk while still holding true to the genre's most essential qualities is beyond impressive. Even bolder in its boundary-pushing than Life Got in the Way, Dear Departed takes a big swing and knocks it out of the park. It's hard to find fault with any of its songs, but I appreciate that the band frames each of the album's sides with a pair of powerhouse tracks. Given that so many Young Hasselhoffs fans are growing older with the band, it's no surprise to me that the response to these last two albums has been so overwhelmingly positive. Speaking on behalf of the fan base, I must remark that these guys are making music that we can deeply relate to. And it's all grounded in timeless melody, masterful songwriting, world-class vocalization, and all those other things that keep us going back to pop-punk music time and time again. There is a literal multitude of packages available from Mom's Basement for the preordering of Dear Departed, so hit up the label's webstore now to reserve your loot. Preorders will ship the weekend of October 6th!

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