Sound — 5
As par-for-the-course as The Story So Far may have seemed for a next-generation pop punk band (even naming their band in homage to seminal pop punk band New Found Glory was a move done by All Time Low first), they've stood out amongst their peers by going against the grain of today's norms in pop punk. As opposed to the dominant style of crispy-clean, arguably saccharine vocalists in pop punk and other emo music realms, lead vocalist Parker Cannon brought a rough-around-the-edges singing style reminiscent of early-noughties voices like Tim McIlrath, Dustin Kensrue, and Nate Barcalow. Moreover, the band's recipe of no-frills pop punk that flows in a similar vein of early-era Taking Back Sunday and New Found Glory made for a more organic counterpart to their "more pop than punk" peers.
It was this formula heard in their 2011 debut album, "Under Soil and Dirt," that quickly conjured buzz for The Story So Far, and they would continue their ascendance on a succinct schedule. Their follow-up album, 2013's "What You Don't See," would land the band high up in several Billboard charts, breaching the Top 10 in Alternative and Independent albums, and hitting #1 in the Vinyl album charts. 2013 would also be the first year the band would play Warped Tour, essentially being the proper induction of The Story So Far into the current pantheon of pop punk bands.
Now on their third album, "The Story So Far," The Story So Far are still riding the momentum of their breakthrough, and that momentum is noticeably growing stale. Still banking on the same pop punk recipe from four years ago, the few variations found to diversify or augment their sound are subtle. A fixation for feedback is shown, which is used as a proper textural component in the intro of "Smile" and the bridge in "Scowl," but mostly results in meandering outros in "Distaste," "Solo," "Mock," "How You Are" and "Stalemate." The band also opt to use different time signatures, but nothing too brainy - nearly half of the album runs in 3/4 timing along with the standard 4/4, though "Stalemate" shows a little more intrigue with its 5/4 verses and 6/4 choruses.
Nevertheless, these minor variations don't prevent the lot of "The Story So Far" from blurring into a homogenous slog from song to song, nor does it distinctly set itself apart from The Story So Far's previous two albums. Despite the band's instrumental prowess still being strong (see the lead guitar melodies in "Distaste," the varied basslines in "Mock," the drumming activity in "Smile"), it feels less potent when regarding its familiarity to the band's earlier works. Chord riffs and lead guitar melodies are composed the same, and even the drumrolling section in "Stalemate" is a bit the band has already done before (in the "Under Soil and Dirt" song "Roam," and in the "What You Don't See" song "Bad Luck"). The only black sheep song on the album ends up being the biggest curveball song The Story So Far have ever made - "Phantom" bears a shoegazing vibe, with clean reverbed guitar chords and slow-traveling overdriven lead lines, as well as Cannon singing smoother than ever before. While it serves as proof that The Story So Far are capable of writing more than one type of song, it can't single-handedly save the stagnancy heard throughout the rest of the album.
Lyrics — 8
With the main lyrical theme spanning throughout "What You Don't See" being Cannon straining to maintain a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend while touring with The Story So Far, the concept that spans throughout "The Story So Far" is the aftermath of that failed relationship. Early on, Cannon's lyrics indicate that his girlfriend cheated on him while he was away (singing "Why'd you leave it? / Is it because what I chose? / Can you look in my face and explain why you put someone else in my place?" in "Distaste"), but as unapologetically angry as he is in the wake of this, he still shows a willingness and preference to try mending things (singing "And I wish you'd just call, and we can hash it out / I could tell you what I'm so mad about / Bet you're sick of hearing me sulk and pout" in "Solo").
However, it's shown that Cannon's ex-girlfriend has no interest in mending things in any way with Cannon, and Cannon's co-dependency towards her and shellshock towards their breakup keeps him from being able to make peace with her or himself. He remarks on his own bewilderment of completely cutting off from her in "Mock" ("How can I just break it off / to leave for good and never talk?"), as well as being saddled with separation anxiety ("Yeah I should let this go / But it gets so hectic on my own" in "Nerve") and bittersweetly dwelling on past memories ("Picture you just dancing / Dancing in your old room / Damn, it's such a bad view" in "Phantom"). The most optimistic thought Cannon shows near the end of the album is his hope that they will be able to revisit their situation in due time ("Let a couple years roll by, bet we come back to this again" in "Scowl"), but with his adamancy towards not letting go of his emotions sounding rather toxic in the final song of "Stalemate" ("I won't calm down / I'll never let it be"), it may be in everyone's best interest that they keep away from one another. While his issues in "The Story So Far" go unresolved, perhaps Cannon will find peace of mind in The Story So Far's next record.
Overall Impression — 6
If there's any downfall that comes with a quickly-gained rise, it's the meekness of complacency. Though The Story So Far hit the scene with a winning pop punk formula right out of the gate, "The Story So Far" is little more than another iteration of that initial success, and its staleness shows that they can't ride their debut momentum out forever. While there may be minor signs of The Story So Far looking to take a step in a different direction, they'll need to shake things up more substantially the next time around to keep the potency of their sound and their abilities from further waning.