Armed with the kind of melodic pop hooks and timeless narratives that summon up whisks of nostalgia, New Junk City‘s latest album Beg a Promise is the kind of punk record that will become a best friend for road trips, night-out after parties, and cathartic hours of contemplation. The Atlanta group should expect to gain the type of hardcore followers that groups like The Gaslight Anthem and The Menzingers have earned through years of heart-on-your-sleeve songwriting.
The album’s first single was wisely chosen to be “Rosey”, a clear, wistful, and harmony-filled pop-punk track that finds the exact sweet-spot between the dusty pop-rock of 90’s groups like Gin Blossoms with the arena-emo of bands like Jimmy Eat World. Probably the most cleanly produced song on the record, it’s a great entrance into the NJC sound. And while a good chunk of the rest of the record retains some fuzz and grit in the recordings, it does nothing to reduce the emotion or power in the songwriting.
Opener “Last Looks” is a punky blast out the door, chronicling the escape from a bad situation (“I don’t owe you anything. No last looks, no explanations”) from an empowering perspective. Then there’s the multi-guitar attack of “Gideon”, which builds tension and explodes when the vocals come in. While the vocals feel more pushed back in the mix, lyrics like “This was never gonna end well. It’s so hard to let you know” still come through in the swelling, anthemic melody. A fair criticism of the album is that there is a lot of similarity between the songs on the album’s first half; the songs all have a similar fast, upbeat punk sound that can blend together a bit. That’s not to say any of the songs are individually weak – there’s not a moment to skip if this is a sound you gravitate towards.
And there are little stand-out moments, like the crackling guitar solo on “Old Maid”, or the triumphant jangle and horn-accompanied “Cavities”. “In the Shade” comes in heavier and harder, with big riffs and a relentless drive. And there is always a thrilling energy to the songs that make you want to be front row to see them live.
The second half of the album is where things branch out in fresh new directions. “Sold in Bunches” soothes with acoustic guitars and melancholic backing vocals as it opens, before blowing up into a raucous rocker with layered guitars and counter-melodies. And there’s an assuring mood to “Left Shoes Jimmy”, an expansive blue collar punk tune that carries you into a better state of mind. And on the closing reprise of “Old Maid”, the band’s lead singer channels his inner Paul Westerberg for a lo-fi take on the story of a maid with ambitious dreams.
New Junk City know how to write great, melodic punk songs. While they still have areas where they can further grow to expand their songwriting formulas and their studio expertise, they are sure to endear themselves to a large swath of people with Beg a Promise.
The record releases tomorrow, October 21st, and you can stream the pre-released tracks below!