Off With Their Heads have nothing on Unfun. As loud, blown out pop-punk further develops its scathing, retching, visceral sound - the result of affable, but acerbic melodies attempting to disguise injurious confession as irreverent cynicism (e.g. the cyclical punkification of mid-90s emo) - Unfun continue to demonstrate that, despite not having all their shit together emotionally, they know how to write a song or two. Shores of Lake Erie, the latest from the Vancouver, BC trio, does not represent an austere change in this approach, but things have definitely intensified.
While their contemporaries often play faster and snarkier, Unfun aim at an earnest and sullen form of catharsis. Despite most tracks barely reaching the two and half minute mark, the songs feel full and actualized. Unfun don't barrel through the quarter hour worth of music as much as plow defiantly. There's absolutely no sense of urgency, even though if feels like everything could fall apart at any second. But if Unfun can do anything, it is endure. By the time Lenny Bones runs through the chorus on the title track a second time, reciting an all-too-relatable mantra, "I'm running away," he exhumes an agonizing and gruff scream that could very well conclude the song, but instead opts to trudge through one more cycle before finally giving up. It's a tactic designed to accentuate and emphasize. "Cold Sores" opens with dissonant, piercing guitar feedback followed by spoken word from Allen Ginsberg's Howl before unleashing one of Unfun's more memorable guitar progressions - so severe and rigid it breaks through the heavy bass and static like piano wire. As the music settles, Bones demands, "just let it bleed," before the sound of scratched strings appropriates any and all energy just to build momentum to go another round.
By all accounts, Unfun have a pop lean, even if it's delivered caked and oppressive, as opposed to polished and crisp. Cleaned up a bit, a song like "Babyboo" could serve as a respited Screeching Weasel tune about youth angst and "nothing to do." "Goul Child" channels the early emo sound loosely defined by bands like fellow Canadians M Blanket and pioneers Jawbreaker (go figure), using two guitars - one keeping time in 4/4 down strokes, the other meanderingly picking and bending notes - to produce a sound that feels like giving up. Yet, what separates Shores of Lake Erie from previous efforts is its unadulterated display of Unfun's more hardcore tendencies. "Cold Sores" succeeds in part to its guitar riff - at times both angular and pummeling - and drums that ensure no part of the meat of the song is left uncooked, whether thrashing through the verse or building suspense in the chorus. "Shores of Lake Erie" is the coup de grāce of Unfun's interplay: the foundation is determined and fervent, with a lead that yanks the frustration out of you while Bones' simultaneously feeds it. The quick strum of dead strings in the chorus allows for split second pause before being compelled forward. It pulls rather than pushes, as the best Unfun tracks do.
Shores of Lake Erie is a recognizing record. Where before Unfun used to exist on the peripheral of different genre cliques, now they're front and center. Sure, they still experience identity crisis (see: "Nuclear Son"), but growing pains are expected. What's changed is a purposeful resolve. Such a thing can come when you stare death in the face, but as Unfun hit the half-decade mark, it's clear experience has given them more confidence and direction than ever before.