Sound — 7
From their instrumentally-savvy post-hardcore and prog metal, to their in-depth lyrical matter, Protest the Hero have always fancied themselves as heady songwriters. In turn, their complex musicianship has built a strong cult following, and from running a successful crowdfunding campaign to produce their award-winning 2013 album, "Volition," to incrementally releasing their concept EP "Pacific Myth" through Bandcamp's subscription service, PTH have been in a successful phase of independent freewheeling.
The next move of theirs, however, spins off from their PTH brand and into a different vein. With frontman Rody Walker and drummer Mike Ieradi joining forces with fellow Canadian rocker Dan Hay (formerly of The Fully Down, and currently in Amos The Transparent), they created Mystery Weekend as a means to dabble in a pop punk sound. One could technically call this trio a supergroup, but the term seems too proud to apply in this case, because Mystery Weekend frame themselves as modest and carefree as a side-project can get.
With that spirit driving their nine-track album "Surprise!," straightforwardness is the key for Mystery Weekend. As opposed to attempting to apply an intricate PTH-style songwriting to a pop punk sound, the trio indulge the fundamental barre chords and double-time drumbeats in "Broke, Old and Tired," "Everyone's a Liar," and the bite-sized "Don't Blame the Kids." But with this simplicity at heart, Mystery Weekend aren't absent of nuance. Whereas "Nostalgia Is for the Birds" wields more of a classic punk feel with its rough-and-tumble guitar solo, "Mission Statement" rings similar to Blink-182, and the opening "Theodore" dons a post-hardcore/emo punk sound. Mystery Weekend even take a minute to get thrashy in the Municipal Waste-esque flurry of "Barfly," but they also save some moments for ballads, like the cello-laced sweetness of "The Obscenity Prayer," and the Dashboard Confessional pastiche of "Super-death."
Lyrics — 8
The sound may not be complicated, but Walker sticks to his poignant lyrical output in "Surprise!," and though he may just be visiting pop punk for a moment, he spends his time getting meta about the genre and its scene in the past couple of decades. Most righteously, Walker lambasts the major music industry in "Don't Blame the Kids," pointing at the industry's greed being what ruined the music scene instead of the internet generation, but he also takes some jabs at the aesthetic of contemporary pop punk/emo - from admonishing its tendencies towards a victim complex in "The Obscenity Prayer" ("Insecurity is a really ugly trait / And it's impossible to see / 'cause it's written on your face") and overwrought emotion in "Super-death" ("Never found it too heartbreaking / To hear some limpdick whining about suffocating lovers"), to giving too much credit to nostalgia in "Nostalgia Is For The Birds" ("And yeah, The Simpsons were probably better in the '90s / But who really fucking cares?").
With this criticism towards the genre, it begs the question as to why Walker and company are entertaining this pop punk side-project in the first place; doubly so, considering how their main music project is more high-brow in comparison. Walker answers that question in "Mission Statement," where the onus of Mystery Weekend goes hand in hand with Walker's perspective of pop punk being its best when it's appealing to a simple joy: "So bring out some simple chords / We're not trying to win any goddamn awards... Just trying to have some drinks / And sing some goddamn songs."
Overall Impression — 8
Mystery Weekend's simple approach to songwriting likely won't tide over PTH fans who value vast complexities in music, but to directly compare the two is a failure to respect the different goals of two separate projects. In essence, "Surprise!" is the result of three musicians getting together with the intention of having fun (and being cheeky towards the genre they're working with), and its lighthearted spirit, combined with its varied output on pop punk, makes for a pleasing record.