Calgary’s Less Miserable write catchy and sarcastic punk songs that make you wish you were singing along with them at a sweaty basement show.
Calgary punk quartet Less Miserable describe their songs as the kind that go well with drinking cheap beer in sweaty basements, shouting along and making friends. Depending on your experiences growing up, this concept will likely fill you with nostalgia or revulsion. Luckily for most listeners, the group’s second full-length, 43 Chinook, sounds as good at home on headphones as it probably does in a sweaty basement, thanks to tight musicianship, solid songwriting, and a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humour.
Taking some cues from the 90s heyday of pop-punk (but filled with more subtle nuances and crafting found in fellow Canadian indie punks like PUP and Pkew Pkew Pkew) Less Miserable’s songs stand above the many pop-punk bands around now due in part to the clever lyrics of singer/guitarist James Martens. Moreover, his vocal delivery helps the group’s tracks blend emotion, sarcasm, and unbridled energy — he manages to be sincere, angry, and fun within the span of a song. Behind him, lead guitarist Mackenzie Meding’s speedy licks, Jesse Kopala’s pulsing bass and Alastair McLeod’s tight drumming allow the tracks to build and crescendo with incredible amounts of tension and relief. It’s a testament to the group’s musicianship that they resist urges to constantly play as loud and as fast as possible, allowing the songs to grow around Martens’ lyrics and vocal delivery instead.
43 Chinook is filled with tons of hooks, accentuated by singalong choruses and memorable lyrics. In the same way that Japandroids struck chords with aging punks a decade ago, Less Miserable write anthems for the disenfranchised who graduated from their parents’ houses only to find that real life isn’t all it’s cut out to be. But rather than mope about it, Martens’ lyrics encourage listeners to make the most of it. On the opening track, “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” he sings: “I make just enough to pay my rent / And keep myself and my addictions fed / I make music with my friends / We play shows on the weekends / And I try and see my family when I can/ Living well is the best revenge.”
On the track “The Dentist,” Martens builds shout-along metaphors that could be taken as stubbornness, independence, or plain old nihilism: “But if you want me to see a dentist, you’ll have to kick me in my teeth / I can’t ask for help unless it’s an emergency / And if you want me to see a mechanic, you’ll have to set my car on fire / I’ll probably just bask in the glow of the flames / I’m sorry, but it’s just the way I’m wired.”
When pop-punk exploded nearly thirty years ago, most groups and their fans were in or barely out of high school. A generation later, groups like Less Miserable are more concerned with writing anthems for those who remember their youth fondly. 43 Chinook is a fun, clever, and exciting album from a band whose songs deserve to be played live and loud, with crowds singing along to every word.
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