In Desolation stays true to punk rock

Off With Their Heads- In Desolation

Minneapolis punk quartet Off With Their Heads retains their previous albums’ style on “In Desolation,” but the switch to one of the world’s largest independent labels in Epitaph Records brings a change to their production.

The group’s music is a winning combination of pop-punk’s three-chord progressions with the guttural voices of old hardcore and gloomy confessionals of Nick Cave singer-songwriters. It’s an inventive idea that pays off in dividends, even as new “gruff pop-punk” outfits seem to form every week.

Newcomers will have to quickly adjust to singer and guitarist Ryan Young’s lyrics because they can often feel like a spiked cocktail of sadness, sickness and struggle. There’s something inspiring about these songs – as if listeners are embracing despairing moments in order to effectively withstand them.

For the group’s established fans, the fear was that releasing a record on Epitaph would mean that the band’s impact would become muffled. Luckily, “In Desolation” doesn’t sound overproduced so much as it’s more clearly a studio mix than their previous releases.

“Drive” kicks off proceedings in typically raucous fashion – albeit cleaner and resembling a traditional single more than the band ever attempted before – in its ode to dodging troubles by embarking on the open road. “Their Own Medicine” and “Trying to Breathe” keep the forward momentum with Young’s coarse penchant for swearing and catchy vocals. The next six songs are solid but non-mesmerizing additions to the band’s catalog.

Maybe “In Desolation” lacks exactly the same piranha-frenzy immediacy of their debut full-length “Hospitals” and various 7-inches because those records were literally immediate – releases recorded in three or four days. The upside here is that Off With Their Heads still sound like themselves, but the extra recording time and studio effects make for a memorable ending.

The record’s last three songs all seem to examine a relationship from multiple vantage points. The terrific “I Just Want You to Know” comes off perseveringly positive and possibly concerns “how rad my new girlfriend (is),” as Young suggested in an interview.

The slowed-down “My Episodes” might even count as the band’s first song that could genuinely be considered pretty. Of course, behind the piano and general solace, there still remains telling lyrics like, “I’ve come too far to be this unhappy.” The album closes with another standout in “Clear the Air,” an aching and melodic plea that should leave the listener wanting more.

Finally, it’s encouraging to see Epitaph – a label started by Bad Religion member Brett Gurewitz that now houses horrendous screamo bands such as Bring Me the Horizon – once again release a legitimately good punk rock album.