Sound — 8
In any biome of music, when a substantial force leaves, plenty of other bands clamber to be the substitute. Case in point: once Blink-182 went on indefinite hiatus, the scene experienced a boom of pop punk bands vying to be the new torchbearers of the subgenre. Both because of saturation and self-fulfilling popularity, there was a "best new pop punk band" being announced monthly. A decade later, there are only a few bands that outlasted the rise and fall of the trend, with all the other bands falling into obscurity or worse.
Hit The Lights were one of the bands that experienced the latter fate. Entering the scene as promising as their kin of 21st-century pop punk acts, their first two albums, 2006's "This Is a Stick Up... Don't Make It a Murder," and 2008's "Skip School, Start Fights," would have the band steadily gaining ground, both in the charts and word-of-mouth. Things would look even more promising for the band after they upgraded to major label status by signing with Universal Republic Records in 2010, but they would drop out of the contract soon after realizing that A&R wanted them to be more "pop" than "punk."
Though this snag wouldn't be the end for Hit The Lights, their momentum would prove to be transient. They would eventually sign with Razor & Tie to release their third album, 2012's "Invicta," but despite it being their most pop-oriented effort of their catalog, it would also be the biggest flop. Even still, Hit The Lights weren't willing to call it quits in the wake of it. Taking the next effort to record an album in stride, they signed with Pure Noise Records in 2014, and also reunited with original vocalist Colin Ross; and even though the reunion would be short-lived (Ross would promptly leave the band again within the year), and the record would be delayed several months, it would only strengthen Hit The Lights' resolve, and finally result in their fourth album, "Summer Bones," which celebrates the band's return to form.
Emphasizing on the important punk elements of brevity and energy, "Summer Bones" is the shortest album Hit The Lights have ever released, but they manage to pack plenty of good ideas in. They expand upon their style within the realm of punk to diversify the album comfortably and naturally - "Revolutions and Executions" borders post-hardcore, and a noticeable amount of skate punk ethos can be found in the album; whether in the fastest tracks of the album, "Keep Your Head" and "Old Friend," or the blistering strumming riffs in "F--ked Up Kids." Investment in production value is sensibly slimmed down, and instead of being a songwriting crutch for the entire album (like in "Invicta"), it helps spice things up in the occasions it comes about, most notably in "No Filter." In light of that, focus is shifted back to the instruments, which have gotten better across the board: guitar leads are more heterogeneous and tricky (like in "Life on the Bottom," or the well-layered melodies in the pop punk ballad "Summer Bones"), the drums are more active throughout the album, and the bass earns attention with nice fits of variation in "Blasphemy, Myself and I" and "Sitter."
Perhaps most triumphantly, though, is that the band's pop punk catchiness is successfully recalibrated here. Whereas the extraneous flexing of anthemic qualities on "Invicta" resulted in hollow stomp/clap requests and contrived sing-alongs, "Summer Bones" channels catchiness that feels genuine: whether it's the toplines in "Blasphemy, Myself and I" and "Sitter," or the chants in "Life on the Bottom," "Keep Your Head" and "Old Friend," Hit The Lights viscerally draw you in to sing and chant along, rather than methodically calculating the best way to get every voice to participate.
Lyrics — 6
As sonically unsatisfactory as "Invicta" may have been, the upside to it was its lyrical value, being the most mature and articulate seen from Hit The Lights. By comparison, "Summer Bones" downticks in lyrical quality, which is mostly due to much of the lyrical style and subjects being repetition of things they've already sung about before. Callbacks to earlier material are aplenty, but walk a thin line between nifty nostalgia and tedious déjà vu - whether it be the headstone-hiding line that ties "Summer Bones" back to their old hit "Stay Out," the theme of trying to keep from drowning in "Keep Your Head" being recycled from "Get to You," or the "I'll drop you like a ton of bricks" chant of "Life on the Bottom" calling back to the general theme of "Drop the Girl." On the other hand, "Blasphemy, Myself and I" is a special highlight lyrically, and pairs noteworthy diction with the classic punk trope of offending the draconian-minded religious, which thankfully comes off as cheeky and substantial, instead of bearing boorish bravado like the style of "This Is a Stick Up..."
Overall Impression — 8
Whereas "Invicta" had Hit The Lights stretching the furthest away from their pop punk roots with aspirations for the biggest reception, "Summer Bones" is essentially the antithesis of its predecessor, bringing the band back to its home ground of pure pop punk. But thankfully, Hit The Lights don't merely craft the album to be "This Is a Stick Up, Pt. II," per se, and "Summer Bones" shows improvement on all sonic fronts, as it should strive to. Ultimately, "Summer Bones" strongly displays that it's more important to pay attention to the punk half of pop punk.