By Jackson Anderson
I’m not a person that is particularly fond of subgenres. I find that they tend to promote pedantry and really only exist for people to categorize their favorite bands under one unique banner. I’m sorry that Irish Folk Ballad Punk isn’t my favorite subgenre of punk. I just like punk rock, okay? That being said, I am guilty of using broad subgenres when referring to punk music because of the breadth of the genre, and I want to give people an idea of what to expect when they listen to my recommendations. Andrew Jackson Jihad (recently rebranded as AJJ) for instance, sounds pretty different than Leftover Crack, (Warning: you’re probably going to be offended in some way by this band) but both bands are almost universally considered punk. Due to this vast difference in sonic quality, I developed a scale of punk intensity in my head, with bands like Andrew Jackson Jihad residing somewhere along the leftmost side of the scale, and Leftover Crack at the rightmost side of the scale. While this scale is useful to some degree, subgenres usually do the job for me of conveying what type of punk is to be expected from a new band. One particular subgenre of punk, however, has always been a bit of an enigma to me.
Pop-Punk is perhaps the widest and least descriptive subgenre in punk music. It has become somewhat of a catch-all term for music that doesn’t fit in other, more concrete, subgenres. Many of my favorite punk bands fit into the category of pop-punk, but a lot of them don’t sound very similar. Due the fact that pop-punk is an often useless label, I have taken the sliding scale of intensity that I developed for the entirety of punk, and applied it just to pop-punk itself. I call it the Pop-Punk Scale of Saccharinity. The scale operates on a one to ten basis, with one being extremely saccharine, and ten being not saccharine at all. I will go on to list ten bands, each fitting under each whole number distinction of the scale, and will list one treat that is just as saccharine as the band is.
Band: Masked Intruder
Associated Treat: An Entire Bucket of Candy Corn
Example Song: Am I Only Dreaming
I actually like this band a decent amount, but if I listen to them too much I feel like I’m going to throw up. Masked Intruder’s shtick is that they are an anonymous foursome that met up in prison, and their new lease on life is to sing the most cheesy, cliche, vomit-inducing songs that are predominantly about love as possible. They definitely scratch an itch. Masked Intruder are the chick flick of punk rock, and everyone needs that sometimes, even if they don’t like to admit it. That being said, being overexposed to Masked Intruder can quickly lead to diabetes.
Associated Treat: Glazed Doughnut
Example Song: Found Love
Chixdiggit! are if Masked Intruder were a normal band made up of the same people, which they very well may be. The two band’s vocalist have a very similar sugary-sweet style, and Masked Intruder’s anonymity and Chixdiggit!’s status as defunct could allow for these things to happen. Chixdiggit! like to sing about girls, people/things that they hate, and… well I guess that’s pretty much it. I like them, but, like Masked Intruder, only in small doses.
Band: The Lillingtons
Associated Treat: Twinkies
Example Song: Lillington High
I love The Lillingtons. A three on the saccharinity scale places them just outside of being overbearing, while still being gloriously corny. The band doesn’t take themselves too seriously, as some of their favorite lyrical motifs are science-fiction, girls, (notice a theme with these low-saccharinity bands?) and potty humor.
Band: The Copyrights
Associated Treat: Ding-Dongs
Example Song: Kids of the Black Hole
We now enter into the world of “normal” bands. The Copyrights don’t have a shtick or a gimmick that they use, they are just a solid pop-punk band that has a straightforward musical and vocal style that puts off some punk rockers that enjoy Dead Kennedys or Black Flag. The Copyrights seem to just tell stories and experiences from their life through music, which is one of my favorite things to see in a band.
Band: Teenage Bottlerocket
Associated Treat: Oreo Cookie
Example Song: Mutilate Me
We now reach the first band on this list that I really like. I like the other four, but they’re all solidly between my twenty and fiftieth most listened to and most liked bands. Teenage Bottlerocket is a beautiful evolution of The Lillingtons, featuring that band’s vocalist, Kody Templeman, and co-vocalist Ray Carlisle (who sings in “Mutilate Me.”) Teenage Bottlerocket don’t take themselves seriously, and it’s a beautiful thing. They have sung about Top Gun, Minecraft, serial killers, zombie apocalypses, and, yes, girls. The guitar work in Teenage Bottlerocket is also a real step up from The Lillingtons, and I think the aggression and energy of the guitarists in Teenage Bottlerocket gives them a few extra saccharinity points, which greatly benefits the band.
Associated Treat: Nutter Butter Cookie
Example Song: Fear And Loathing On Long Island
This is where it gets really good. Six through ten on the saccharinity scale of pop-punk is the perfect, golden brown of the genre, in my humble opinion. While there is a time and a place for the smooth and sweet vocal styles of the previously discussed bands, I enjoy a little bit of roughness, and even sometimes, some screaming. Latterman’s optimistic message of friendship and celebration of being nerdy punk-rockers may be a bit too cheesy for some (including the band, as they cite this for the reason that they broke up), but every once in a while, some uplifting music can be beneficial to listen to.
Band: The Menzingers
Associated Treat: Thin-Mint Girl Scout Cookie
Example Song: In Remission
By now, we are done with bands and treats that are excessive in their sweetness. These bands are more refined, and, like the treats that accompany them, are a bit more of an adult form of entertainment. The Menzingers are a thinking-man’s band, particularly the songs written by Tom May, which frequently contain a litany of literary references. Songs by Greg Barnett frequently deal with lamentations on heartache, loss of youth, and wishing to be a better person. The Menzingers definitely take themselves seriously, which isn’t always a good thing for a band to do, but it works out very well for them.
Associated Treat: Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate with Raspberry
Example Song: Aphorisms
I’ve previously said that Chris McCaughan is the strongest that I’ve ever related with a musician. Well, Elway’s Tim Browne comes in at a close second. He explains feelings of depression, obsession, heartache, loneliness, dependence, and love of people and places more intelligently and eloquently with less words than I could ever hope to. All of the emotion that he hopes to get out of his audience in his music seems to be earned to me, in no small part due to the sincerity in which he sings and his ability to talk about hard things. Love can at times be a saccharine thing, but Elway divorce most of this feeling by talking about all the negative effects that it can have, and when they talk about the positive effects, they do it in such an earnest way that they stay grounded in reality, earning them one of the best saccharinity ratings I think a pop-punk band could hope for, an eight.
Band: Dillinger Four
Associated Treat: Ghiradelli 72% Cacao Twilight Delight
Example Song: Doublewhiskeycokenoice
Now we’re really straddling the line of what is even to be considered pop-punk. I think most people consider Dillinger Four to be pop-punk, but they’re definitely a far cry from Masked Intruder. Dillinger Four is a band of four fat old men, and it’s one of the reasons that I love them. Four fat old men talk about things that other demographics don’t talk about. Dillinger Four really have a grip on loneliness, and the plight of the average American Joe. They have always seemed like a truly honest and real band. They even get political at times, something that I don’t think any other band on this list (except for maybe the next one, rarely) does. Dillinger Four has inspired me at times, telling me to “celebrate the ugly things,” and find my own small enjoyments in life, because it’s going to be hard.
Band: Oh! Calcutta!-era The Lawrence Arms
Associated Treat: Ghiradelli 86% Cacao Midnight Reverie
Example Song: The Devil’s Takin’ Names
The Lawrence Arms have experienced ups and downs in terms of their musical pacing and saccharinity. I’m not going to deny the fact that they are my favorite band, and their albums that are sixes are just as good as their album that is a ten, if you ask me. That being said, Oh! Calcutta! is one of the most bitter albums that exists, fittingly putting it as far away from saccharine as possible. The Lawrence Arms made the interesting (and highly suggested against) decision to have both of their vocalists, Brendan Kelley and Chris McCaughan, take the role of lead vocalist simultaneously in the majority of the songs on Oh! Calcutta!, creating a clashing, dissonant growl that only adds to the album’s themes of depression, self-harm, loneliness, disgust, disillusionment, and abnegation.