Sound — 5
Starting as a punk/ska band in high school, Punchline proved to be quite prolific in their teenage years, having self-released two full-length albums early on. Of course, that early work would all be for the sake of cutting teeth before they signed with Fueled By Ramen to release their first proper full-length album, 2004's "Action." This stay at the popular pop punk label wouldn't be for long, and the band would part ways with the label after the release of their 2006 album, "37 Everywhere," but with the band starting their own label, Modern Short Stories, to release their own albums again, they began to experiment more with their pop punk sound. Their fifth album, 2008's "Just Say Yes," took some new turns into chamber pop and grunge, and they would also start to apply some shinier pop production to their standard pop punk sound in their sixth album, 2010's "Delightfully Pleased," and their 2012 EP, "So Nice to Meet You."
That growing direction of genre-dabbling paved with a pop mentality made for a dead-on foreshadowing for the future of Punchline, and their new album, "Thrilled," banks harder on this route than ever before. With the opening one-two punch of the pop rockers "Thrilled" and "Now I See," where the band's conventional instruments give elementary contributions behind the pompous production jobs, Punchline's compositional recipe this time around focuses mainly on synthetic melodies and drumbeats. They take a stab at 80s synthpop in "Tell Me How You Sleep," show a nifty hint of glitch production in the synth ballad "Oh, Sierra," get egregious with the vocal processing in "Let It Rise" (where the tedious verse vocal melody sounds annoyingly similar to the verse vocal melody of Blink-182's "Reckless Abandon"), and mimic Owl City in the somber modular cut of "Telephone Pole."
Though generally back-seated throughout the album, Punchline do what they can to keep their instruments an active factor in things, but most of those results are messy. With "No Stopping Us" suffering from a cluttering of ideas (from multiple guitar and vocal tracks, to cramming in whistle and brass melodies), the band's instruments find their footing in the rock-oriented "Answer Me" (where bassist Chris Fafalios particularly shines brightly), but fall to flailing experimentation in the end. With the penultimate "Simulation" making a clambering switch from Jack Johnson-inspired surf rock to Weezer-esque chord slogging, the final ballad of "Green Hills" goes through a rougher metamorphosis - starting as a delicate piano ballad, then drifting off into an ethereal synth interlude akin to current-era Sufjan Stevens or Damien Rice, but then jarringly kills its pensive mood with a shoehorned power guitar outro.
Lyrics — 6
Frontman Steve Soboslai's lyrical style has always given Punchline a more jovial feel with their music, even in the midst of Soboslai's stretch of breakup songs penned in the conceptual likes of "Just Say Yes" and the following "Delightfully Pleased." Soboslai still has some heartbreak to dish out in "Thrilled" - heard in the bitter spoiling love of "Now I See," the frustrated relationship limbo of "Answer Me," the unwittingly creepy step above a Craigslist "Missed Connections" ad in "Telephone Pole," and the surreptitious Vegas marriage of "Tell Me How You Sleep" (which surprisingly doesn't hold a candle of debauchery as well as their previous album's song "Coyotes in B Major") - but as an advancement, he also shows more positive, love-prevailing bouts of lyrics in the stark romantic serenade of "Oh, Sierra," and the together-forever sentiment of "Simulation." That's the more colorful side of Soboslai's positivity, as his other uplifting lyrics - from the journey-not-the-destination message of "Thrilled," and the ambiguous appeal to "strength in numbers" in "No Stopping Us," to the ode to resilience in "Let It Rise" - are bland in both lesson and in articulation.
Overall Impression — 5
On paper, Punchline's shift from their dependable pop punk to a pop-minded hodgepodge of music was carefully coordinated - they dipped their toes in the water within their past few releases, and "Thrilled" now has them jumping in the pool. And while their attempt to move on from a style they've boiled down to a science already is admirable, the amount of songs that come off derived from either the trends of today's pop music or from other bands makes the output of "Thrilled" sound more confused and contrived than forward-thinking for Punchline.