Written by: TL on 30/12/2015 14:56:41

The Pittsburgh quartet Punchline has been around for a while now, gradually evolving from energetic, synth-tinged pop-punk back in the 00's, over the more polished, Something Corporate-ish pop-rock of the 2012 EP "So Nice To Meet You", and now arriving on their fifth album, "Thrilled", at something that could arguably be classified so much more as synth-pop that their continued relevancy at Rockfreaks.net is likely to come in question. As the opening title track defends the development with compelling lyrics over booming synthwave choruses, however, it's clear that change has felt necessary within the band:

"Don't make their opinions fact, don't be a nostalgia act

[...] taking steps is not a crime, you've been patient now's your time

[...] make a move while you've got the chance, ask your destiny to dance"

The song starts the album off a bit suddenly but otherwise works rather well, especially in these verses, speeding ahead on a quick beat that feels like something from a Walk The Moon album. Not bad. The following "Now I See" is reasonably catchy in sort of a wide-eyed Owl City-ish way, but it is the single "Tell Me How You Sleep" at track three that clearly stands out from the rest of the album as its go-to song. There's a warm, retro, 80's vibe to the synths and rhythms here, and the chorus, albeit repeated almost ad nauseam, is one of the most infectious bits of music you're likely to have heard in the second half of 2015. Frontman Steve Soboslai's fairly ordinary voice functions on a whole other level here, feeling warm, relaxed, thoughtful and affectionate all at the same time, and his refrain is bound to stick with you for days based on just one or two listens.

Sadly, "Thrilled" then proves to be a poppier album in more ways than just stylistically, as the quality of songs takes a steep decline immediately after the opening trio of singles, never to recover. As good as the vocals sounded on "Tell Me How You Sleep", they come off just as grating in the chorus of "No Stopping Us", as do the thick, synthetic brass parts. A track like this and the later "Let It Rise" sounds like the band has tried to take notes from newer Fall Out Boy or perhaps even Kanye West, which they don't pull off with even moderately enjoyable effect. Particularly the effects on the vocals here are hard on the ears.

The more chilled "Telephone Pole", which delves further into Owl City's territory, is at least casually enjoyable, while "Oh, Sierra" and "Simulation" have moments that remind a bit of fun, yet each has its problems, ultimately making them feel like weaker shadows of the artists they compare to. Finally, there's a bit of Relient K-ishness in tracks like "Answer Me" and finisher "Green Hills", yet with the same result. It is like the band has come up short when they tried to mesh too different ideas together while also relying on the singing to carry more than what seems realistic with the decent but limited vocal talents the members display on here.

Sorry to report a rather commonplace verdict then, but sadly, but Punchline's first full-length as a full-fledged synth-pop band is the kind of record which gives you a couple of really good pop singles to enjoy, yet turns out to be rather inconsistent otherwise.

Download: Tell Me How You Sleep, Thrilled, Telephone Pole
For The Fans Of: Owl City, fun, Walk The Moon
Listen: facebook.com/punchlinemusic

Release date 04.12.2015
InVogue Records

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