It’s the pop-punk conundrum. Raging Nathans are a distinct band -- yet they aren’t. On first listen their sound is familiar. Take Lookout Records and Ramones-inspired sing-alongs, add skatepunk urgency, put it in a blender and set to crush. It’s not an even mix of all the ingredients, rather familiar fragments with a lot of unique twists and turns when you play closer attention. And it’s those cock-your-head moments that distinguish Raging Nathans in a really particular way – because they manage to keep a unique feel throughout all their songs, when sometimes the variance comes in a harmony, sometimes a solo and, at others, with a rhythmic punch. There are a lot of familiar ingredients but the taste is different. It’s expected but it’s still personal, with heart.
The first thing to stand out about the new Waste My Heart is its sensitivity. This album is softer and less driving than last year’s angry Oppositional Defiance. There are more harmonies and fewer pounding beats. It’s more about progression than pummel. Heck, if it weren’t for the song title, I could half see people slow dance swaying to “I Could Never Fall In Love With You.”
While a lot of songs jump out, “Overworked” feels like a turning point or high-water mark. It’s a frustrated song about long hours and aging, contrasted with a hook-laden sing-along chorus of “I think I’m overworked today.” It’s anthemic and accessible, but simultaneously personal and with deeper meaning -- all with a familiar pogo-punk aesthetics. It’s reflective music with a bit of weight but, at the same time, it’s about releasing pent-up aggression. The pop-punk of yesteryear may have been songs about bubblegum and girls. Today it’s about growing older and understanding our relationships. Don’t fix what isn’t broken; just make it better.
If Raging Nathans have a calling card, it’s songs like “Wide Awake” or its follow-up, “Out of Touch.” The first-person lyrics are relatable, the guitar tones are bright and cut through a driving rhythm section and the melody wins the day. While the memorable hooks come via melody, it’s that forceful rhythmic punch that makes it go. “New Direction” takes it literally, starting with a bass-driven repetitive hook that drones for a moment before a bridge kicks in a new direction with brighter tones. While the song is about regrets in many ways, it’s also about turning things around and looking forward. While many of the tunes here sound resigned on the surface, there’s a hopeful optimism that ultimately shines through.
If you’ve heard Raging Nathans before this record, you know what you’re going to get. But at the same time, it’s not a repeat of the last record at all. Their ability to mix it up without changing their sound is impressive and, frankly, it’s quite rare in the punk scene.