Media Review: “PUP” by PUP

Grade: A-

When talking about punk music, musical proficiency is something that isn’t often brought up.

At least, that’s how it was during the genre’s infancy.

The genre has resulted in a myriad of offshoot styles. Hardcore became post-hardcore, which became emo, etc.

Despite this, the idea of “anyone can do it” still holds true when discussing standard, straight “punk rock.” To start a punk band you really only need to know four chords, how to pluck one bass string and how to keep a steady but fast beat on drums. It’s populist rock.

Toronto punk band PUP, however, is one example of the genre’s evolution from uniformly simple, baseline “punk rock” to a more inclusive style that allows for broad variations on a theme. The band is also an example of how punk is still for everyone, if not still by everyone.

Formed in 2011, the story of how the band’s proper career began is so punk it’s almost a caricature of the genre’s stereotypes. The band members all quit their [very nice] jobs on the same day and went out to get drunk that night. Within the week, the band sent demo recordings to labels and got offered a gig on a semi-major tour.

I bring this story up because it brings home the idea of punk music not being manufactured, being populist. These are four guys who made a band, who can play and who happen to have begun getting paid to do it.

With all that in mind, PUP’s self-titled debut with SideOneDummy Records is a great manifestation of both sentiments. It’s at once a record that is relatable to all walks of life, and an album that showcases its style of punk as complex as something that requires real musical talent to play.

This talent is evident from the first track “Guilt Trip,” which is built around a jagged, halting guitar riff. The album overall is filled with these interesting riffs, and it’s refreshing hearing a band play who know they can.

It isn’t only the guitars that impress. The bass is heavy throughout, and it’s place low in the mix compliments the other parts really well. Though bassist Nestor Chumak is obviously good at his instrument, he has a pretty conventional approach to bass, so you won’t be hearing many melodic parts from him. Regardless, he does his job beautifully.

The drums on the album are another high point. Drummer Zack Mykula is a monster behind the kit, pounding out interesting beats and impressive fills. It really seems as though Mykula is putting his full weight behind every hit, and is able to lay down any odd meter he begins.

Lyrically, the album deals with standard, small town punk band fare, but it deals with it so well I can’t really find anything to complain about. The lyrics are relatable and catchy. With stuff like, “Sometimes you live and you learn/sometimes you get what you deserve,” you can’t really complain all things considered. Plus, vocalist Stefan Babcock screams them with conviction that’s hard to criticize, given the context.

PUP may be a testament to the increasing presence of nuance in punk music, but their debut album is great where it counts: it’s simply a good rock album. PUP is a band that sound as if they’re trying to shift the paradigm of punk rock. They aren’t trying of course, but you can’t help but think of the possibilities.