Excellent punk held together by strong songwriting
New York-based, industrial punk band Pop. 1280 is back with a fourth studio album. Way Station is—to put it lightly—an absolute bruiser of an album, from start to finish. It incorporates elements of noise, industrial rock and punk into an extremely compelling new sound that is entirely the band’s own. This is an album that demands a lot of the listener, but if you have the type of ear that is prepared for the abrasiveness and beautiful non-stop violence of music like this, you’re in for a treat.
Right out of the gate on “Boom Operator,” Pop. 1280 sound like they’ve foregone typical musical devices completely, and decided to make an album with torture instruments. The synths are heavy, the bass is banging, and there are some other unidentifiable sound effects that pop in and out, sounding vaguely like a mythical beast gnashing its teeth. The group takes a step back on the second track and shows what they’re capable of at a less incessant tempo. Here, the vocals and lyrics start to shine with the more stripped-down production. Lyrics like, “Were you having a gas/ during the car crash/ things have been strange/ since you’ve been gone,” reveal the band’s innate ability to use images of horror and destruction in conjunction with more personal details. After a brief piano-focused interlude in “The Convoy,” it’s back to business with another banger in “Doves.” The grinding guitar, growling vocals, and interesting rhythmic breakdowns take center stage. “Hospice” reveals a more melodic side of Pop. 1280, further proving that the band’s talents go far beyond the noise that listeners will probably notice first.
The next three tracks, “Monument,” “Empathetics” and “Leading the Spider On,” represent the most drone-heavy chunk of this project. The group is wallowing in their misery here and is trapped in the darkness that their intense sound represents. These tracks couldn’t be more entertaining. The noise and timpani-like drums on “Monument,” the wild synths on “Empathetics” and the ringing guitar licks on “Leading the Spider On” all pair insanely well with the distressed vocals, and stand out as highlights of the album. Finally, Way Station concludes with another trio of tracks in a lane of their own, this time a more relaxed and stereotypically pretty lane.
One of the most impressive aspects of this album is that for all the noise and heaviness, Pop. 1280 still manages to compose some genuinely beautiful moments (in a more conventional sense). For example, “The Deserter” is flat-out gorgeous and functions as a great instrumental interlude. The sparing piano notes and reserved guitar plucks create a fantastic two minutes of serenity within the chaos of the rest of the album. The penultimate “Home Sweet Hole” is the last clearly punk-leaning track on the project, and leads into the closer, “Secret Rendezvous,” very well. While it does end a bit abruptly, it feels like the final gasp of a band exhausted by its most aggressive moments but satisfied by the catharsis it has managed to create. Way Station is finished, and Pop. 1280 might be just as worn out as the listener by this lovely 11-track experience.