Choke Up - Stormy Blue (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Choke Up

Stormy Blue (2017)


If you missed out on 2015's Black Coffee, Bad Habits then you missed out on one the best post-hardcore/punk records of all time. I'm still spinning that record to this very day and hearing that Choke Up was bringing Stormy Blue out this year was one of the most perfect ways to bookend 2017. Christmas, come early. 

While their previous LP was more brash and very much about wild hearts and the storm of youth, this new record focuses on the calm and the baby blue eyes at the center of this storm. The tracks aren't as aggressive and angry but they're still melodically intense and find the Boston quartet in a more mature place in life.

The opening song, "Saturday Night", perfectly bridges the gap from BCBH as they dial things down while still speaking about the Americana running through their veins. It's about addressing the Cadillacs speeding down highways, the leather jackets they got from their fathers as rites of passage and about wondering if these days need to be put to bed. In short, it's about the future and starts off the record with a slow, grating melodic crawl. 

It signifies how tempered back things are this time around with the band adopting a poppier edge to their style of punk. "Blue Moon" and "Full Bloom to Bedlam" are solid examples of this and this also allows Sam Johnson's vocals to stand out a bit more under their less gritty and loud impression. His lyrics hit home like never before as well, especially if you're leaving your 20's and heading into the 30's. What I love about this fine-tuning and quieting-down in Choke Up's sound is that they still haven't scrubbed the angst, energy and attitude of old. It's still a bunch of anthemic choruses, huge melodic hooks and if you're a fan, you'll know how brilliant Harley Cox is on the kit. All of this still exists.

Thematically, Choke Up continue to show depth to their songwriting and honestly, they're wise beyond their years. A running theme is 'Jenny' which at first glance sounds like a girl Johnson's always running back to, but instead she's a metaphor for home. It's as if to say, go sow your wild oats and when you're done, I'll be here waiting. Home is that haven after all. Musically, there are other sidewinding roads the band embark upon here, with their takes on country/folk/acoustic as present as ever on "Borderlands" as well as the slow-burner called "Level Me." They love acoustic songs like the latter and on BCBH these intermissions were some of the best on offer. The same holds true once more and in speaking to Johnson, he told me these breaks make the more intense songs resonate as deeper cuts. They love this loud to soft dynamic as the words get to settle in, prodding at your emotions way more than first anticipated. And Johnson's quite right.

Other little deviations include "Fireworks" and "Arcade on the Pier" which have a wispy vibe like the most recent Brand New record, Science Fiction. It's a Southern drawl mixed with a Midwestern burn, all made for shots of whisky at sundown. If you're still with me, then yeah, the word I'm looking for to sum this up... is versatility. That's what Choke Up bring to the table. They dropped an unplugged EP a few months ago called Hart and I honestly didn't know where they were heading. It kicked major ass yet gave no turn signal for their vehicle. Well, now I can say it's parked on the edge of the cliff and watching the horizon burn. I'm glad they invited us all along for the ride and I'm also very eager to see where they take us when the storm starts swelling and acting up again. This calm doesn't last for too long but in the meantime, we can immerse ourself in its beauty. That's the advice Choke Up leaves us with at the end of the day.