Magnolia Park – ‘Baku’s Revenge’

By Sean Reid

In recent years there has been an ongoing pop-punk revival (again). However, it’s now more diverse and inclusive beyond the stereotypical white male. One of the emerging groups in the pop-punk scene is the Orlando-based collective, Magnolia Park. Through a regular stream of singles, collaborations, EP’s, and various touring and festival spots, the sextet have built an abundance of momentum leading to their debut full-length – ‘Baku’s Revenge’.

Anyone who’s followed the group over the past 12 months will be familiar with their brand of pop-punk. Mixing punchy hooks with a handful of emotional topics (depression, toxic relationships, and institutional racism) may not be the most revolutionary take on the genre, yet Magnolia Park executes it compellingly.

From the outset, there’s a sense of self-awareness with a mixtape-like intro addressing accusations that Magnolia Park is “a TikTok band” and uses auto-tune. They soon prove their doubters wrong with ‘Feel Something’. Undoubtedly one of the pop-punk songs of the year, it’s bursting with radiant emotion and energy. Vocalist Joshua Roberts sings about his mental health issues and his frustrations. It’s a theme that pops up throughout ‘Baku’s Revenge’. Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders adds to the track’s emotional core. Overall, it’s a vibrant rallying call to those feeling lost and frustrated.

Throughout Roberts and company neatly blend bold pop-punk choruses with hip-hop and pop elements. Tracks such as ‘Misfits’, ‘Ghost 2 U’, and ‘Radio Reject’ exemplify this. The latter leans on the high-octane pop-rock akin to All Time Low. Whereas ‘Ghost 2 U’ sees Roberts share vocal duties with guitarist Freddie “FRED” Criales against a stripped-back beat, allowing their emotive words to take centre stage.

Magnolia Park’s ability to constantly cram infectious melodies inside is equally advantageous and frustrating. For example, the fuzzed-up, seemingly celebratory ‘Drugs’ roars through with a playful melody and punk rock energy within three minutes.

One potential criticism about Magnolia Park is that they tend to stick to a pop-punk formula. In addition to the stream of three minutes or fewer cuts, there are familiar themes that bands in the genre have relied on repeatedly. Take ‘Addison Rae’ for example. Named after the internet celebrity and actress, it’s the usual tale of helplessly being attracted to the messed up but irresistible girl. Although it’s performed well, providing another bouncy, hooky chorus, thematically it’s a tiresome trope.

The main album closure, ‘I should’ve listened to my friends’, again leans on a typical pop-punk trait – a romantic relationship turned toxic. Nevertheless, it’s delivered irresistibly. Amplified by Joe Horsham’s popping drums and crunching guitars from Tristan Torres and Criales, it’s a resonant finale.

It is a credit to Magnolia Park to give fans who want more. The deluxe cut of ‘Baku’s Revenge’ includes four bonus tracks, allowing the band to further showcase their talents, with varying results. Both ‘Facedown’ and ‘Complicated’ blend hip-hop-based verses with power-chord heavy choruses. They allow Roberts’ diaristic lyrical tone to shine, highlighting his personal frustrations.

Another theme that repeatedly pops up throughout ‘Baku’s Revenge’ is institutional racism. With a diverse line-up, Magnolia Park have been on the receiving end of racial abuse. Besides mid-album point, ‘Paralyzed’, recent single ‘Don’t Be Racist’ sees Josh Roberts take on this criticism head on. Being unwelcomed by some areas of the pop-punk scene (“They told me I should stay in my own lane”), and the use of Black Lives Matter being only for “profit or promotion” is some of the issues he raises. Yet he’s defiant, standing up for himself, borrowing Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ angst-filled line of “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” in the process.

With ‘Baku’s Revenge’, Magnolia Park have successfully achieved what they set out to do. It’s a quickfire introduction to what the six-piece band are all about, both musically and lyrically. Beyond the catchy hooks is an emotional core that embraces relatable topics; depression and inclusivity, with a handful of thought-provoking cuts accentuating this admirably.

Despite only being a band for three years, Magnolia Park has already carved out a flair for producing addictive songs that leave you wanting more. They might not be reinventing the pop-punk formula, but they are giving it a fresh, socially-conscious lick of paint for 2022.

SÊAN REID

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