Bouncing Souls - Maniacal Laughter (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Bouncing Souls

Maniacal Laughter (1996)


There’s a time in every kid’s life where he or she looks for someone who relates. This often happens as a teenager, most likely in high school, when one feels confused and alone. That’s usually how one finds punk rock and roll. But few in punk are as embrasive and inspiring as New Jersey’s Bouncing Souls. Maniacal Laughter, the band’s second full length and first classic, greets those kids with open arms.

Maniacal Laughter was neither a Rocket to Russia nor a Dookie, albums so universally accepted Urban Outfitters sold their T-shirts. It was  an album you had to discover. High school students slotted their headphones into their Walkmans and found Greg Attonito’s presence—warm, welcoming and, realistically, softer than other NYHC bands. The music was three-chord punk rock made with Attonito’s added layer of vulnerability. Pete Steinkopf’s fast-paced, memorable riffs and Bryan Kienlen’s defining trebly bass executed the delicate aggressive/melodic balance flawlessly and, in turn, secured the band’s sound.

For a short punk album, Maniacal Laughter had it all: aggressive straightforward numbers (“No Rules,” “Headlights… Ditch!”), bratty songs about youth (“The BMX Song”) and outcast anthems (“The Freaks, Nerds, and Romantics”). But even with a runtime under 25 minutes, they took risks, none more so than the instrumental tribute to their hometown. “Moon Over Asbury” succeeded on Steinkopf’s western guitar and, at less than two minutes, didn’t overstay its welcome.

Two songs really stuck out. The cover of “Born to Lose” was reminiscent of Social D’s “Ball and Chain.” Though someone else’s song, it so accurately captured the band at this time in their life, seamlessly fitting onto the album. “Born to Lose” could have been the title of just about any song on Maniacal Laughter or even the album itself. It could have also described “The Ballad of Johnny X,” quite possibly the band’s most beloved song. Johnny X, who appeared as almost a degenerate Christ figure, was any and everybody: a failing but loveable shithead. And when it came down to it, that’s who Maniacal Laughter was made for: the freaks, the nerds, the romantics, the Johnny X’s, the Lamar Vannoys, and the Quick Check Girls of the world. When Attonito yelled, “no one will ever be like me!” its double meaning acted as both a reaction to exclusion and a proud badge of individuality.

The Bouncing Souls created an inclusive rebellion that found true voice and connection on Maniacal Laughter. It laid groundwork for the spirit of the band while also solidifying their credibility. They played snotty, real songs but in a lively, fun way. And they’ve continued to do so for the last twenty years.