Pop-punk bands have always gotten a bad rap. Unfortunately, many great acts have been overlooked because of it.
For every monosyllabic and rudimentary act, there have been countless others crafting intelligent songs and masterful albums. The Arrivals have been doing the latter since the mid-’90s.
The Chicago-based band’s newest Recess Records release is Volatile Molotov. The album is packed full of attention-grabbing sing-alongs and poignant lyrics. At times, The Arrivals are capable of crafting songs as accessible as anything heard on mainstream radio without ever subsidizing its Midwestern grit.
When vocalist/guitarist Isaac Thotz takes the lead, specifically on “Blank State” and “Frontline,” it feels as if he has been writing for the next Gaslight Anthem record. Both of the aforementioned tracks bounce with the indie-pop sensibilities of Ted Leo, but the comparison is more than apt during “Blank Slate.” While Thotz may not have the same vocal capabilities, his emotion is palatable. It seeps through the speakers as he laments “Can’t recall why I’ve been so afraid/Of the dim and quiet life/Head in the clouds and both feet in my grave.”
In recent years, The Arrivals have been forced to shake off comparisons to Minneapolis’ punk rock royalty Dillinger Four. This is due in large part to bassist Patrick “Paddy” Costello holding down the low end in both bands. With Volatile Molotov, the band may have finally distinguished itself.
If Dillinger Four is a raging Saturday night kegger, the Arrivals are a relaxed Sunday afternoon spent on the front porch.
This is not to say the album lacks the punch of previous works. When vocalist/guitarist Dave Merriman takes over vocal duties, he displays that The Arrivals are still completely capable of acerbic punk rock. Opener “Two Years” gives the album an energetic launch and packs a hell of a punch. Sadly, the blow is diminished as the album progresses in a more laid-back manner.
Often the record feels stifled by the bands attempt to lessen its attack and increase its scope. Because of this, there is little that jumps out upon first listen. Even after repeated trips through Volatile Molotov, the album’s tracks end up running together.
Compared to the band’s previous work, Volatile Molotov comes off as the Arrivals attempt to recreate American Steel’s Jagged Thoughts. Tracks such as “The Children’s Crusade” find itself in a mid-tempo rhythm that is too slow for an aggressive reaction, but also too up-tempo for ambivalence.
“Simple Pleasures in America” closes out the album and shows each member taking up vocal duties. While Paddy’s vocals fit into the song as well as they would on any Dillinger Four record, it is drummer Ronnie De Lix’s contribution that shows the band was having a damn good time making this record.
While it may not have transcended the scene that it came from, Volatile Molotov is a worthy addition to the band’s discography. It’s another socially conscious pop-punk record from the Chicago mainstay, only with a little less punk this time around.