The worlds of pop-punk and hip hop have been crossing over prevalently for the last couple of years, and new-school Gen Z duo poptropicaslutz! feel like the ultimate coalescence of these musical styles coming together on their adrenalized, high-impact debut EP just in case the world ends. Formed during the pandemic, the group comprised of Nick Crawford and Christian Cicilia sound like true students of music, showing off smart lyrical acumen, sticky hooks, and utilizing modern production and technology as the tools they were meant to be, instead of crutches to make up for a lack of skill or song craft.
Opening track “WW3” emphasized drums and bass, and instant sign of the influence of rap and hip-hop on the duo. Yet as Crawford and Cicilia trade off on vocal duties in swift, melodic fashion, it’s easy to hear the influence of pop-punk forbears like blink-182, and in their clever, emo-tinged lyrics (like the great “One day I’ll die and you’ll just think I’m offline”), groups like Fall Out Boy. Musically, the duo mix live instruments with digital sounds, bridging the gap between bands of yesteryear with the modern bedroom artists composing their albums on GarageBand.
Thankfully the duo never go overkill on the digital effects, instead using them to give songs texture and bigger sounds. Songs like “This Might Be Our Last December” mix normal vocal takes with autotune (thankfully Crawford and Cicilia can sing, so don’t need autotune to hit their notes), on “Lackluster at Best, Masterpiece at Worst”, the duo build on the acoustic guitars with digital strings and other orchestral accoutrements that take the song to the next level musically. Keeping the track in the pop-punk/emo arena are the lyrics, with confessional lines like “I can’t mind my own business. I don’t known my own limits. I’m sorry you have to witness this” adding a diary-like quality to the song.
And while these tracks avoid maudlin airs, they retain an emotional heft that clearly connects to their growing fanbase. On “In this World of Mona Lisas, You’re My Jackson Pollack”, the vocal delivery hits like a percussive instrument, adding power to the song that hits home with lines like “I swear one sympathetic message could probably kill all my depression”. Even on narrative tracks like “Hysteria is Impossible Without an Audience”, the most guitar-forward track on the EP, the duo take inspiration from classic aughts scream bands in the style of their vocal trade-offs (even including some actual screaming) that heighten the track’s latent anxiety and desperation.
At times the group tries a bit too hard to give their introspective lyrics a literary quality (“Falling through a bottomless pit of epiphanies” has a nice cadence but is close to emo-parody), but they manage to knock their memorable, sing-along choruses out of the park. As the EP ends with the piano-laced, hyper-punk serenade “The last time I was scared was when you caught me trying to kill you”, it’s clear Crawford and Cicilia are ahead of the game as far as genre songwriters go. They’ve absorbed most of the strengths of their predecessors, with only a few of their indulgent weaknesses (which the group will certainly grow out of over time).
Only two years into their musical career, poptropicaslutz! is already garnering millions of streams and selling out shows, and based on the quality of the songs on this debut EP, their trajectory is clearly straight up. The EP is out now!