You gotta really fine tune and play to your strengths so that you don't fall into that trap of sounding generic when it comes to pop-punk. A few bands are doing it quite neatly, some not so much and some are stuck in the middle. Handguns are stuck in this limbo and Angst is a perfect example of a band and album that need that extra impetus and push over the finish line.
I already find myself struggling to give this a second listen. It isn't awful, but it isn't that bright. I personally feel like I already got the stuff that Handguns wanted to convey and pass on from this record from the likes of Stickup Kid amongst the few in 2012. There were some really decent pop-punk records, but this album fails to captivate that attractive essence as it gets bogged down in a generic poppy sound. Case in point–"Drag You Out," "Stay With Me" and "Song About You," which are all drawn out, mundane and sound like adolescent lunch-time poems. There's an immaturity in the teen angst portrayed here and I thought this band would have evolved past that by now.
There was a lot of promise shown in the past and it was evident on the crunching guitars in "Porch Light," which shreds a great sound. "Long October" follows suit as it's faster, has swift guitarwork and hits all the right notes. But rather than utilize more crafty and sleek guitars, which Handguns no doubt can do, they wanted to showcase and pivot on the vocal strength of Taylor Eby. He doesn't amp the mood when needed so this wasn't the best decision, especially given that he has that template voice used in this genre a lot. He struggles to be distinct, and his lyrics really don't help at all.
They try to pick up the slack with "Early Retirement," as it's a half-decent punk-oriented pledge, but it quickly loses its steam as it attempts to parody pop-punk stigmas. The satire falls flat on its face and the sneering attempt to acknowledge why this genre is cheapened actually cheapens the fucking song. There aren't even catchy and melodic rhythms to carry the tunes. "The War at Home" continues a drab vibe that deprives the record of initiative and urgency. I don't know how they can validate tracks like these that feel a bit rushed and lacking progress from their earlier material.
The latter half of the record tries to redeem the album and makes small headway doing so. Eby seems fixated on teen rhetoric, which gets a bit prominent at times and dampens the ebb and flow of the listing, but the closing songs are a better attempt at establishing that emotional connection Eby wanted. They struggled to convince but songs like "Nice Choice, Better Life" and "Fade Away" incorporate an edgier and catchier vibe, which makes them a bit more relatable. These songs do well in their earnest intentions but the duration of the record has already been set in stone.
This sets the stage for the much-appreciated closer "Where I Belong," which really tries its best to get you to accept the second half of the record more. Of course you do, but that's because there weren't that many impressive songs earlier. This record wasn't packed with a multitude of flaws and there are spots of potential but a lot's left to be desired. There's a lot of room for improvement. How fast they do this is surely gonna define their stance in the genre.