I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for alternative rock, but this band also hits all the right notes in my pop-punk opinion. Their latest album, Up Next On… is a deep-dive into the process of self-producing and self-recording, which is an impressive feat all by itself. Each member exhibits an incredible amount of musicianship, as well as gritty, raw, natural talent for making multiple genres mix and mingle in surprisingly satisfying ways. As a plethora of various love songs of self-discovery, these songs are a journey that you’ll float through. Then you’ll return home with a renewed sense of calm and vigor for living life to the fullest.
Since all three members sing in some capacity, it’s hard to pinpoint a leader. But then again, why would I need to anyway? It’s not a competition, after all. Michael Romano is responsible for those sickeningly articulate guitar riffs, while the lightning-fast rhythms are at the sticks of drummer and vocalist Nick Fauza. How anyone can sing while playing drums in a potentially syncopated rhythm blows my mind, even without the speed and accuracy he has. Bassist Aidan Crotty also holds down the beat while providing vocals and keeping everyone on track. These three guys make a lot of noise – and for good reason, because they’re absolutely worth listening to.
Every song on this album feels like something I’ve heard before – there are Kodak moments reminiscent of the 1975, as well as Young The Giant, U2, and even Pierce the Veil (just to name a few that come to mind). That’s a pretty eclectic mix, and further proves that American Ink isn’t wasting any energy trying to fit into a box; they chucked the darned thing out the window miles ago.
Below, I’ve analyzed all six of these sonic offerings for your listening pleasure.
1. Up Next On…
The title track opens with just vocals and a trashy (in a good way) distorted guitar. Then gang vocals jump in with “Oh man I’ve done it again!” as the drum beat picks up. A chugging guitar joins the mix next, creating a really nice overall build just for it all to break into a syncopated ska rhythm and a bright vocal melody. This sounds busy and messy in words, but when you listen to it and hear all the layers, you’ll find that it’s actually extremely aurally intriguing. If you’re musically-trained like I am, you’ll even notice the subtleties like the cat-like whine of the guitar floating in and out of the second half of the song. And it gets a lot heavier toward the end, featuring completely insane drum fills that seem otherworldly.
BONUS: The music video for this track just dropped today, and you can watch it HERE. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRROeUD97ys
The police-siren opener is an interesting choice, but the blend of it into the bright vocals is equal parts haunting and unexpected. This song is very airy, and has a lot of room in it to vibe with. The use of the synthesizer brings a vintage flair to the song, which amps up that nostalgic factor. “I walk a narrow line / a tightrope guitar coming loose” is a very poignant phrase that stood out to me, as it provides some neat visuals to viscerally illustrate the feeling of blindly taking risks. The word painting of these lyrics implied in the song by a subtle string section in the back of the mix is a genius addition. “Mannequin” ends the way it began, with sirens and a crash which sounds to me like a broken bottle, or maybe a pinball machine. The sheer randomness of this piece is enjoyable in its ambiguity.
Okay, the sci-fi intro cognizant of the band Waterparks gives way to a guitar riff instantly reminding me of “Cough Syrup” by Young The Giant. This one may be my favorite on the album – the opening of the chorus progression and mix is satisfying both sonically and thematically. I also love the message of the song, being that you don’t have to be tethered to negativity, or the randomly crappy things that pop into your head: “went up and kissed the sun / you know you’ve been a cloudwalker to someone”. It’s equal parts melancholy with a good dose of encouragement and sage wisdom. Breathy sound effects almost echoing off cave walls and surprising programmed tones weave in and out of the familiar riff as it progresses. If you lose yourself in it, you might not even notice – until you do, and it’s even cooler the second, third, fourth, and infinity times around.
4. Purple Vest Charisma
This one is straight out of 60s surf-pop, but also sounds like it’s from the 80s with that synthesizer thrown in as well. Not only does this band obliterate the sense of genre, but also generation. By crossing all the lines as smoothly as they do, you barely notice it happened until these songs are already stuck in your head – regardless of your age. Loving that syncopated rhythm, and the chorus melody is especially poetic and smooth. “We burned and watched the embers fade / it was my worst mistake / to mistake you” is cannon of a love song gone wrong, and I love the ironically happy vibe of the song despite the lyrical content. I’m also really obsessing over those guitar harmonies at the tail end of the song. My music theory brain enjoys the really nice cadence of the resolution from a fifth bouncing back to the tonal center.
5. Jim’s Song
The sampling of the conversation as the guitar riff floats in and out of the echoing ambient noise creates a nice environment for this song. I kinda wished I could make out what the characters were saying, but then I realized the specifics didn’t really matter. That’s especially a good thing, because this song is quite literally, a minute and a half of setting the vibe. That also explains why this song is the longest on the album – the narrative needs that beginning to make it poignant enough to make sense. “Traced the lines a thousand times I wanted to remember / but these nights alone in our afterglow won’t put it back together” is a beautifully poetic line, just like the ones I’ve listed above. Additionally, I really enjoyed the way the chorus melodies are built on a descending major scale – it’s super simple for even the most basic of tastes to grab onto. The high harmonies add a good dose of sonic tension to the choruses as well. I will admit that I don’t like the use of “G-damn” in songs as a personal preference, but I respect and understand that they have artistic license to tell their story however they please. Regardless, the bridge portion of this song is easily my favorite, and the way everything strips back just to clean guitar and vocals proclaiming: “slam the open window” (what’s up with these guys and windows, right?). Then everything explodes again from there, clearly highlighting windows as a critical theme of their work. Ending with a simple but effective guitar solo into a fade is a bold move, but I’m here for it.
6. Going Home
Appropriately titled for the ending of an album that was undeniably a journey, it immediately gave me early Paramore mixed with Blink-182 vibes. Which, is definitely not a bad thing. Easily the most angsty of the album, the pop punk palm-muting layers nicely against the call-and-response vocals. “Can’t you see I was trying my best / why don’t you give it a rest?” is a very relatable sentiment, and the vocals play two different characters fighting really well. It’s heartbreaking, and real in the best way. That guitar solo by the way, is immaculate. I’m always impressed by solos that have good phrasing and tell a story over the ones that shred my face off just because they can. Also, that harmony ascension at the end was ethereal. Moving toward the military-esque drum beat paired with the horn section brought about a sense of finality, and the dynamic build back into the chorus after the breakdown hits so hard. It felt a bit like a key change in its function as a turning point, even though the tonal center didn’t actually change. And that’s when I realized this was my second favorite of the album, tied with “Cloudwalker”.
These guys are clearly pro songwriters, and that fact really shows in the structures of their songs. Somehow, the progressions are predictable enough to appeal to the vast majority of listeners, while also bringing something totally new to the table. Pretty sure this will be stuck in my head all day tomorrow, and that’s probably why they call themselves American Ink – they tattoo themselves in your brain. Luckily, the picture’s pretty so I don’t mind, and neither will you.
Follow American Ink on YouTube and listen to Up Next On… HERE.
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