Reviews Pkew Pkew Pkew Optimal Lifestyles

Pkew Pkew Pkew

Optimal Lifestyles

There’s a lot I want to say about this album, but I’m torn because I try to keep things more positive. I’ve given it a lot of thought and a lot of listens, and I just don’t like it. At its best, it’s a pop-punk version of The Hold Steady – and that’s not in that oversimplified “recommended if you like” way. The band plays it up in the press release. They actually worked with Craig Finn on the lyrics and his hand is felt throughout the whole thing, from the storytelling narrative to the choruses.

Pkew Pkew Pkew started as something of a party punk band. Their early material mostly featured short, repetitive singalongs about carefree living. It’s fun, catchy stuff, but a band can only write so many songs on that topic. I’m glad they’re growing, but it’s not in a direction that suits my personal taste. For the most part, the sound on Optimal Lifestyles keeps that catchy focus, but adds a few guitar progressions, a lot of vocal tradeoffs, and a penchant to build the songs around the lyrics, letting the melodies rise and fall with the narrative action rather than through instrumental movements and power chords.

“Passed Out” shows their strength. It takes that anthemic vibe of their earlier work, but instead of singing about beer cans and pizza parties it takes a deeper meaning. It also blends in that Finnsibility of inner reflection without beating the listener over the head with it. It means something, but it’s fun too. I also hear some shades of Dear Landlord. Opening track “Still Hanging Out After All These Years” is another highlight that shows off that balance.

The rest of the record doesn’t hit me nearly the same way though. Some of it is my personal taste—like that I don’t really care for a couple of the voices—but it goes deeper. “I Wanna See a Wolf” and “65 Nickels” are abstract metaphors, and “The Pit” feels like it’s intentionally vague to create mystique. (It’s also impossible to listen to it without thinking of Mouse Rat.) Another song that kind of jumps outside the general narrative of the overall record is “The Polynesian,” which I’m pretty sure it’s about Wisconsin Dells, and it manages to capture the tourist trap’s intangible qualities in an enlightening, less judgmental way. There are parts here that I enjoy and parts that I don’t. In short, the record starts off strong and goes downhill in the latter half as the lyrics get more self-absorbed.

The lyrics are the primary downfall for me. Class war is a staple in the punk rock songbook but if you’re going to write a song with the refrain “Rich kids go fuck yourself,” why insert it into a song named “Adult Party”? The song is mostly about cultural alienation and the uncertain pathway from being a “kid” to an “adult.” But for some reason, the lyrics insult people for preferring hugs to handshakes. I’m befuddled, or maybe I’m hopelessly out of touch. I find this song the most frustrating because the lyrically-driven album is in full climax at this point. After 13 songs of self-reflection and attempts at personal growth, the narrator instead says, “Meh. I’m better than everybody else. I’m going to go home and play some video games.”

Either the record sends mixed messages, or it’s supposed to be a concept album that follows a flawed narrator on a quest for self-improvement that basically just ends with, “Forget it: Everybody is stupid. Let’s drink.” The pointless journey is a tried-and-true literary trope, but it’s not my jam. To return to earlier comparisons, The Hold Steady’s characters display good intentions despite their flaws. Dear Landlord offers a relatable vulnerability. I don’t find this record easy to relate to. Some people will probably love it. I’m not one of them.

6.0 / 10Loren
See also

KFAI - Roar of the Underground
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