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Simple Creatures reconciles polish, grit on debut EP ‘Strange Love’

| Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

When pop-punk legends Alex Gaskarth (All Time Low) and Mark Hoppus (blink-182) announced a collaborative project, everyone expected explosive results ─ but to what extent? Would Simple Creatures fizzle out like a mediocre science fair volcano, or would they erupt with the strength of 15 Mentos in a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola? The latter prediction proves correct on the recent release of the duo’s first EP “Strange Love,” an exhilarating avant-garde expression of studio luster and organic rock.

A simplistic black and white portrait of Gaskarth and Hoppus adorns the EP’s artwork, hinting at the pair’s acute awareness of their pervasive ethos. Gaskarth emerges from All Time Low’s most recent period of reinvention, culminating in their acclaimed album “Last Young Renegade.” Hoppus is coming off blink-182’s latest release, “California,” a record that harkens back to the band’s roots. Rather than combining the stylistic tendencies of their main projects, Gaskarth and Hoppus use Simple Creatures to pioneer an unprecedented sound.

On the track “Drug,” revving guitar riffs launch the listener into a messy anthem about self-destructive love. Verses shimmer with vivid lyrical imagery, building up to an addictive chorus. “Drug” then decelerates to reflect the dreamlike state of delusion that often characterizes damaged relationships. Setting the tone for the remainder of the EP, “Drug” is trashy, yet deliberate and satisfying.

With the EP’s titular song, Simple Creatures pivots from the pugnacious thumping of “Drug” into a soft and resolute track about surrendering to the intoxicating idiosyncrasies of deviant lovers. The track’s steady simmer allows Gaskarth and Hoppus to unlock the full potential of their unique voices. Hoppus’ high pitch prevents hypnotic verses from dipping into monotony, and Gaskarth’s vocal power better suits the passionate refrain. Both voices establish the supergroup’s expressive prowess, capturing the listener with rousing and memorable lyrics.

Accusations of immaturity never cease to beleaguer pop-punk groups, but the track “How To Live” refutes these accusations through its poignant account of a person’s failure to satiate the impossible emotional needs of his partner. Although less infectious than the rest of the EP, “How To Live” solidifies the EP’s innovative trend line. Gaskarth noted in an interview with The NME that Simple Creatures formed so he and Hoppus could shed the “filter” that restrains them from pursuing their instinctive creative tendencies.

Lyrical quips, periodic guitar crescendos and a deadened beat dominate the verses of “Adrenaline,” a song about desperately attempting to claw out of the emotionless post-breakup void. An uptempo chorus separates the alluringly methodical verses as Gaskarth pleads for a dose of adrenaline to release him from “six feet underneath [his] misery.” Fittingly, “Adrenaline” restores the energy of the EP.

Simple Creatures exhibits the tame side of their sound on “Ether” which, as a friend observed, feels “like cruising down [Chicago’s] Lake Shore Drive at night.” More pop than punk, “Ether” resembles a ballad that crashes through its own muffled intensity into synthesized bridges following each refrain. The song’s mellow vibes, bolstered by now-trademark ingenious lyricism, transform the difficult decision to confront one’s apathy into a celestial ordeal.

Everything about the track “Lucy” surprises and gratifies, making it an appropriate conclusion to Simple Creature’s revolutionary experiment. Keeping in mind the dark themes of its preceding tracks, “Lucy” entertains with an absurdist premise of a robbery gone awry. Snarling guitars interspersed with a mixture of aggressive and breezy vocals constitute a thrilling, irresistible experience unparalleled in the genre of pop-punk.

Paradoxically, the dubious coherence of Simple Creatures’ EP secures the band a style rooted in consummation rather than contention. No need to choose between the studio and the garage ─ synthesizers and electronic drums can complement gritty guitar and bombastic vocals. Gaskarth and Hoppus’ musical exploration will surely come out in the sound their main projects. Moreover, the duo has already announced a second Simple Creatures EP for the summer. Punk’s not dead, but perhaps Simple Creatures has instigated an era of evolution in the genre that embraces the radical freedom of discarding self-imposed creative limitations.

  • Artist: Simple Creatures
  • Album: “Strange Love”
  • Label: BMG Rights Management
  • Favorite Tracks: “Drug,” “Adrenaline,” “Lucy”
  • If you like: All Time Low, blink-182, The Wrecks
  • Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5
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