Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Chumped is a self-proclaimed “bummer punk” band from Brooklyn, NY, and all things considered it’s a pretty accurate description, especially with regards to their debut LP Teenage Retirement (released Nov. 18th via Anchorless Records). No matter how raucously upbeat and infectious these songs get, frontwoman Anika Pyle’s lyrics bear a constant sense of dissatisfaction, both with her current standing in life and in dreading a future where she might actually have to grow up. The album’s title really says it all. Not quite ready to fully embrace adulthood but wise and experienced beyond adolescence, Pyle and co. have crafted a record that occupies a negative space between the two extremes, where twenty-somethings might go to retire their teenage selves before fully moving on.
Musically, Chumped aren’t bending over backwards to re-write the 90s emo/pop-punk formula they subscribe to almost religiously on this record. They wear their Alkaline Trio, Jawbreaker, and Superchunk influences on their sleeves for the whole record, seemingly completely unconcerned about criticism due to excessive emulation. Sure, they’ve added a tinge of LoFi grit and fuzz to their sound, but that too has been done before (see: Joyce Manor’s Never Hungover Again and Cloud Nothings’ Here and Nowhere Else).
What they lack in innovation, however, Chumped more than makes up for in execution. Pyle’s vocals are much clearer, fuller, and more focused than many of her peers’, and she can evoke the same amount of passion and pain without having to resort to hoarse yelling in lieu of an upper register. They’ve also proven on this record that they understand how to fully flesh out even a simpler song, deliberately dialing down the complexity in their overall arrangements while simultaneously dropping in surprise tempo and dynamic shifts (“Long Division,” “Penny,” “Name That Thing”), lead bass lines (“Something About Geography”), and even noisier melodies and more dissonant chords (“Coffee”) from time to time.
The adherence to simplicity and melody-centric songs does have its drawbacks, though, as the spotlight is clearly on Pyle and lead guitarist Drew Johnson for the duration of the album. Bassist Doug McKeever and drummer Dan Frelly don’t really get a place to showcase their individual talents, so they compensate by proving their chops in the context of the band, making sure the rhythm section is interesting to listen to while also not overwhelming Johnson’s guitar lines. Meanwhile, Johnson and Pyle’s guitar work borrows heavily from early Superchunk tonally, but they make it their own by occasionally adding a tad bit more grit as well as embarking on more Weezer-esque riffs, adding just enough complexity to maintain interest.
While their tightness as a band may shape this album, the core engine breathing life into it is ultimately Pyle’s lyrics. With anecdotes that are personable without ever resorting to cliche, Pyle lyrics together a collage of thoughts that unify around the same basic premise: she knows deep down she’s older but at the same time the idea of adulthood terrifies her. Often this results in her trying to recapture the joy and youthful optimism she once felt, as the chorus of “Name That Thing” proclaims, “And we drank and we talked shit and I was happy/ Tried so desperately to hold on to the feeling/ of being young/ being sure/ being lucky/ ‘Cause I get down/ and it’s so easy/ to feel nothing.” Alas, she’s too experienced to fall into the typical adolescent trappings such as falling too quickly for people, as she knowingly relates in “Hot 97 Summer Jam,” “I would wait for you all summer/ You would turn me away.”
That same self-awareness is what separates Pyle from all the other indie rock and punk singers who lament their twenty-something angst. It’s true she’s just as uncertain of and nervous about how to proceed in her life , but she’s matured enough to openly admit that the fun of her teenage years often came with consequences, and despite her fears she’s in a much better position now that she’s in full-control of her own life. Pyle all but comes out and says this point blank in the final track “Old and Tired,” as the refrain, “And it’s okay/ to sleep away/ the pain/ of being old and tired,” is a small consolation that even though young adulthood comes with its own crushing blows, things do get better if you push through.
Teenage Retirement is a tremendous debut for Chumped, showcasing the band’s finely tuned songwriting and affinity for heavily weighted hooks, as well as their ability to forge their own sound despite not making any drastic musical distinctions for themselves. More importantly, it is a rare instance of self-aware pop-punk, in which Pyle finds space to vent out her anxieties without dwelling on them, and even comes to realize that those too, shall pass. Deep down Pyle and her compatriots know it’s time to let go of their adolescent worries, but that doesn’t mean they have to surrender their youthful spirit, and so for now they won’t call the phase of life they’re in the dreaded “adulthood.” To them, they’re just retiring their teenage angst, but it’s growth all the same, and this album is certainly a great place to start.