Bubblegum pop-punk done right
Seattle rockers Tacocat have released a new record, This Mess Is A Place, under Subpop Records. After the breakthrough success of 2014’s NVM and the lukewarm critical reception of Lost Time (2016), Tacocat has returned to form with a fun, energetic record that’s full of bubblegum pop-punk jams set to lead singer Emily Nokes’ patently clever commentary.
The album’s opener, “Hologram,” is a feel-good indie pop tune carried by a simple but catchy chord progression, a strong vocal performance by Nokes and a driving beat that’s impossible not to tap along to. It’s clear that the political through-lines that have connected Tacocat’s previous work are still present, but Nokes doles out her critiques cleverly, reminding us not to take authority at face-value because “power is a hologram.” Rather than juxtaposing Tacocat’s upbeat sound with dark, mercurial lyrics, Nokes is able to offer social commentary that is still optimistic: “How did we come to be so jaded?/ I guess it’s more that the rest has faded/ But little by little it’s getting bright again.”
“New World” and “Grains of Salt” remain consistent to this approach: they’re fast-paced, cut to the point and trim the fat. The latter builds expertly to an epic conclusion. Coming out of a breakdown, Nokes tells us “Don’t forget to remember.” The restrained guitar and drums pick up, a hummable new lead guitar melody plays over the top and another vocal track singing the chorus underneath it all leads to a massive, climactic sound that stands out as one of the album’s high points thus far.
In a sense, Mess is like a Marvel movie: it’s perhaps a bit formulaic, relying consistently on a particular sound and vibe, yet it’s hard to critique this formula too harshly when it’s so consistently effective. At times the songs feel a bit similar, but little wrinkles like the introduction of a synthesizer in “Grains of Salt” to diversify the instrumentation go a long way in keeping this album a fresh and engaging listening experience throughout.
Listeners who don’t enjoy this particular sound won’t find much here, as Tacocat stick to their guns throughout. But fans of this brand of indie will appreciate Tacocat’s tight, precise playing and consistent ability to write great, catchy choruses. “Rose Colored Sky” is another example of both. The verses showcase Tacocat’s use of dynamics to create interesting sounds, as the change between dialed back drums and palm-muted chords to big, heavy sound from line-to-line is effective. And the song’s chorus offers one of guitarist Eric Randall’s best melodies on the album. The song ends with a double chorus, amplified by a key change during the final chorus.
What makes This Mess is A Place work musically is that Tacocat establishes a simple formula for their songs that always works. However, the ways they cleverly deviate from song to song with interesting dynamics, cool breakdowns and weird curveballs like a surprise key change make each song feel fresh and new, yet familiar and consistent with the rest of the album.
Tacocat’s effervescent energy is present in every track, and the album doesn’t overstay its welcome: it’s fun, easy listening on the surface, with clever social critiques for more perceptive listeners. If you’re not a fan of bubblegum pop-punk, it’s hard to recommend. But for those who enjoy this style, This Mess Is a Place is masterfully crafted.