The 20Belows

For Better Days

Written by: PP on 01/09/2010 06:24:16

Almost 200 spins and more than a full year later, I'm finally ready to jot down my thoughts on the sophomore full length by The 20Belows, the premiere punk rock band in Denmark, the one band that has shown positive signs of international success with two US tours underneath their belt already. "For Better Days" was finished already in early 2009 but has been kept from the public for more than a year, because the band hoped to gain the support of a bigger label for an album that they knew was good. Really good, in fact. Easier said than done, of course, and in the end the guys got fed up with waiting for someone bigger to release the album. So here we are, once again, on Monster Zero Records, a small Dutch label that has an absolute gem of an album in their hands. I should know, I've had more than a year to listen to the record, and I still haven't grown tired of it. It's simply one of the best no-frills, straight forward punk rock albums that I've come across since God knows when. It's not just a massive improvement on their past material (forget "Headaches & Moodswings". Seriously.), but it is also, in this scribe's personal opinion, the best punk rock album released in Denmark to date. Go on, name a better release in the genre to have surfaced in this country, and I'll buy you a beer.

What makes "For Better Days" so fantastic is its balance between the punk element and the pop one. Many albums these days overload on one at the expense of the other; Fall Out Boy sounds far too pop these days to appeal to the underground audiences, whereas The Dopamines are too akin to d-beat punk rock to ever improve past the underground. But on The 20Belows' newest, you'll discover a perfect 50/50 balance, where you can't label the album as neither pop punk nor punk rock. It's exactly in between, utilizing the best aspects from both sides to its advantage. On one hand, you have breakneck speed d-beat punk rockers like "The Inevitable Knockdown" (one of my personal favorites, by the way), which race down a melody line that's definitely pop punk but far too fast paced for it, and on the other extreme, you have songs like "Like A Choke Slam", which are semi-ballads but are driven forward with distinct punk undertones splashed all over it. Both approaches (and everything in between) have one element in common: they are really catchy. You'll be singing along in no time.

On surface, the songwriting seems overtly simple. The guitar lines are bright and borrow heavily from old school pop punk, all the way from the Ramones era while throwing in some 90s influences as well. The drumming isn't too technical, and the vocals are sung with a laid-back, down to earth attitude. But upon repeat-listening, you'll begin to notice small details that, despite being simple, beautifully add to the overall impression. It can be a bass line that rides on top of the power chords that catches your interest, or a gang vocal section that's impeccably placed to add just that one key element that makes the song stand out. Small points like these make "For Better Days" last so much longer than most of its contemporary peers. Longevity, I tell you, is a key element in any great album you'll come across. When mixed with an easily-accessible sound, it usually results in world wide super stardom, at least if your home country happens to the the United States of America. Coming from Denmark, The 20Belows will have to settle for less - much less - but should the album land in the hands of the right people....never say never, right?

In the end, there are no bad tracks on "For Better Days". There are only excellent, original, infectiously catchy pop punk / punk rock / punk pop songs that carry a fun, easy-going vibe. They are so easy to enjoy that when I played the record at my part time job (a hotel), even random foreigners well past their prime were tapping their fingers along. The best song on the album, the title track, sums up the atmosphere created by the record nicely: "we'd get drunk and play for fun's sake / sing along to punk rock mix tapes". You can't go wrong with that attitude. In the past, the band had their heart in the right place but lacked the songs to support their cause for old school punk, they have those songs and then some. Here's to hoping for a quick discovery The 20Belows of the international punk rock forces.

Download: For Better Days, Double Gin, The Inevitable Knockdown, Saying Sorry
For the fans of: Ramones, Screeching Weasel, Teenage Bottlerocket, Fed Up 74
Listen: Myspace

Release date 12.06.2010
Monster Zero Records

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