Alkaline Trio - Is This Thing Cursed? (Cover Artwork)

Alkaline Trio

Is This Thing Cursed? (2018)

Epitaph Records

What does an Alkaline Trio record sound like in 2018? This is a question many of their fans are bringing to their ninth LP Is This Thing Cursed? The band has been adrift in recent years with Matt Skiba most famously joining Blink-182 and releasing a record under Matt Skiba & The Sekrets. Dan Andriano, for his part, has also been no slouch, touring solo and with The Falcon in the intervening period and collaborating with Jeff Rosenstock on his most recent efforts. Derek Grant has continued filling in for punk stalwarts like The Vandals on drums. Having been five years since Alkaline Trio’s last record, it’s clear these experiences helped shape Is This Thing Cursed?, but even clearer the band is happy to be playing with each other again.

The album opens up with the one-two-three of previously release singles. “Is This Thing Cursed?” works well as an album opener with its nursery rhyme beginning and Skiba and Andriano trading off vocals and harmonies. It has a quality about it similar to “Old School Reasons.” “Demon and Division” offers the first glimpse into the sound of 2018's Alkaline Trio. Catchy bass chords drive through the verses underlined by subtle keyboards and a classic Skiba chorus. It’s followed by another standout track in “Little Help” with Andriano wondering if anyone knows where he can go get high. It’s clear Andriano’s collaborations with Rosenstock have rubbed off on him. There a couple of moments throughout Is This Thing Cursed? where you can hear this influence like “Stay,” which sounds not unlike Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room’s latest output, and cleverly recalls past Alkaline Trio songs.

The middle of the album starts to stall a bit with “I Can’t Believe” and “Sweet Vampires,” the later sounding like a Sekrets song amplified by Grant’s drum work. Andriano and Grant’s musical interaction remains a highlight on the album, if at some points it’s muted. “I Can’t Believe” finds the bass moving up and down the neck over inspired bass drum patterns. The album comes with a glossy sheen of production via Cameron Web. There are times where this clearly works in the mid and upper range giving it stellar pop appeal. Piano is utilized throughout as well as acoustic guitar layers, but it sometimes shorts the low end burying some of Grant’s fills and Andriano’s bass.

After a few songs recalling efforts off Agony and Irony and Good Mourning, Is This Thing Cursed? finishes strong. “Worn So Thin” and “Throw Me To The Lions” bring back the punk rock energy of their earlier years with double-time drums and palm muted chords. Closer “Kystalline” is an acoustic number that feels like the right note to end on.

Another highlight from this album is the lyrics. While always being well-respected amongst the punk rock scene, it seems the freedom of writing Alkaline Trio songs again has both stepped up Skiba and Andriano’s contributions. In addition to the self-loathing they’ve made a name for themselves on, the band finds themselves looking at the world more broadly, contemplating the nature of happiness while growing older and wearier.

It’s clear Alkaline Trio are enjoying playing as a group again resulting in Is This Thing Cursed? being one of their loosest efforts to date. Each individual player stands out at one point or another. Their other musical projects act as context clues to Is This Thing Cursed? and what is inspiring the Alkaline Trio of 2018. If that’s a sentence that interests you, this is a worthwhile welcome back.