How do you compensate for an oversaturated pop-punk market? If you are Army of Freshmen, the answer is to amplify structures not normally associated with the genre. ‘Happy To Be Alive’ earns itself a punk moniker in basic song structure alone, the majority of the tracks relying upon melodic verses and unquestionably catchy choruses. Simultaneously the band have uncovered conflicting territory by infusing guitar driven structures that should add a level of maturity, yet which end up as hasty as their back catalogue would imply.
Disregarding the negative connotations that traditionally follow immaturity, ‘Happy To Be Alive’ only suffers in its reluctance to go the distance. The substantial increase in guitar led rock formulates the initial impressions of the record – instead of the shallower sounds dominating the prior four releases, Army of Freshmen are now delivering music one would associate with their adult years.
That said, the ever-present harmonies and pop-punk sensibilities that the record so rightly retain do drift towards the underdeveloped. It is difficult to conclude whether Army of Freshmen may have been better delving headfirst into guitar rock, taking a lead from the likes of Four Year Strong. On tracks such as ‘Paperweight’ and ‘We’ll Always Have Forever’ the band demonstrates their ability to deliver solid material at this level.
Frustratingly the album is then let down by odd pop-punk quirks which sit uncomfortably next to other material – take the atypical instrumentation in ‘Deland Avenue’ which quickly transforms an otherwise serious track into something altogether more juvenile. The same can be said for the electronics in ‘Fault Lines’. On the flip side, tracks such as ‘Ava’ or the absolutely infectious ‘America, You’re Breaking My Heart’ take the reverse approach and amplify the pop elements.
In its entirety the inconsistency becomes slightly difficult to bear. It is clear that Army of Freshmen are looking into ways of reinvigorating their sound, and ways to ensure that the music represents them as a band. Unfortunately this unstable result sees them drift from guitar driven rock, to questionable synths and outright pop. The upshot is that none of these approaches are executed badly – despite the more serious lyrical content, ‘Happy To Be Alive’ focusses on the positive.