Titling your debut you full-length Road Maps and Heart Attacks seems like a conscious attempt to asserting a band's self-definition, hinting at the desire to carve out the future as well as the unexpected surprises that may come along with it. Like a band named after a Movielife album would suggest, This Time Next Year are shrewd purveyors of the turn-of-the-century pop-punk sound. They obviously know where they are going, but unfortunately that leaves few surprises for the listener along the way; still, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the ride.
Although This Time Next Year lack some of the "heavier" moments found in the catalogue of bands like the Movielife or Set Your Goals, they know when to turn on the aggression enough at just the right time. Take for instance the rapid drum fills of the intro to "Rise and Fall Curtain Call," or the head-banging crunch of "Cheers to a Late Night." While the band keeps things relatively upbeat, bright and punchy, the sombre "Rhyme and Reason" serves as a mid-album highlight -- which brings me to one of the album's limitations. The structuring of the album is extremely top-heavy, with the standout song "New Sensation" coming in at track two. If you were listening to an actual record one might never turn the B-side over at all, because save for aforementioned album closer "Cheers to a Late Night," the rest of the songs are pleasant but not very memorable.
Brian McTernan's production, as always, is pretty consistent throughout, allowing for just the right amount of grit to poke through the glossy pop sheen. However, the mixing on Road Maps and Heart Attacks seems to create one of its unnecessary drawbacks. The vocals tend to be a little too low in the mix. While the vocal harmonizing and trade-offs aren't as expertly performed as, say, the Menzingers, or even Midtown, there is some nice stuff going on that is just buried enough for the casual listener to miss.
Understandably, as Californians, there are definite moments here that are indebted to SoCal punk, but most of their sound is still heavily informed by the Northeast. This also includes the lyrical content of the album, which one could easily picture Ari Katz yelping, like on "Alex in Wonderland":
If you're walking home tonight, say your prayers keep to the streetlights.Nothing brilliant by any means, but it fits the music perfectly and balances straightforwardness with attempted poeticism nicely.
I know I'm on your mind with the worst intentions.
I'm working up the guts to say you weren't enough.
Fuck what your friends say, I was never about you anyway"
Road Maps and Heart Attacks, certainly delivers on the promise of establishing This Time Next Year on the pop-punk path we've all seen before, but it lacks any real surprise that the title also hints at. If you are looking for a solid collection of well-produced pop-punk tunes to get you through those dreary winter months, look no further; but if you are looking for something with a little more staying power, you'd be well advised to check elsewhere.