Hot Mulligan – ‘Why Would I Watch’

By Rob Barbour

What’s the statute of limitations on genre “revivals”? Ten years? Twenty? What about the revival and/or reinvigoration of multiple genres simultaneously?

Somehow, it’s been twelve years since the ‘Tr00 pop punk’ movement went fully mainstream with the release of both ‘Under Soil & Dirt’ by The Story So Far and ‘Suburbia, I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing’ by The Wonder Years. In that time, there’s been entire careers and bodies of work directly influenced by those bands and the scenes from which they exploded.

With the concurrent emergence of the midwest emo scene, we’re now well over a decade into pop-punk’s re-reinvention as an earnest and – whisper it – serious art form, played not by sophomoric bros enamoured of scatalogical humour but by dorky outcasts who can really play their instruments. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and we now have bands like Mom Jeans looking back even further, reviving the more basic,  pop-forward punk that bands like TSSF and The Wonder Years were reacting against.

The counter-point to this more 90s-infused pop punk is a wave of bands looking back to the 2010s and once again taking the genre seriously; and with their third album, ‘Why Would I Watch’, Michigan’s Hot Mulligan make a convincing case for leading this vanguard.

Hot Mulligan have been threatening to become the most important band in pop-punk since 2018’s ‘Pilot’ but where that debut and its follow-up ‘You’ll Be Fine’ saw the band merely wearing their influences on their sleeves, this latest effort finally sees them coalesce into an individual sound. That’s not to say that this sounds markedly different from their first two records, but it is far more coherent.

It’s impossible to avoid comparisons to The Wonder Years, particularly when vocalist Tades Sanville indulges his inner flannel-shirt-tugging sad lad side. But this time around he does so just as often as he unleashes the larynx-shredding scream which has become Hot Mulligan’s calling card, creating a balance and sonic identity often missing from their earlier releases.

The band’s songwriting has matured to the point that Chris Freeman and Ryan Malicsi’s midwest-emo fretwork theatrics now wrap themselves seamlessly around the pop-punk frame of the songs themselves. It’s all powered by drummer Brandon Blakely, a turbo-charged machine oscillating between double-time skate-punk beats, tumbling pop -rock fills and, something missing from too many contemporary punk bands: groove. Listen to his deployment of all three on stand-out track ‘And I Smoke’, or his subtle accompaniment to the lush, balladesque intro of ‘This Song Is Called It’s Called What It’s Called”.

No, your brain wasn’t playing tricks on you with that previous sentence; part of Hot Mulligan’s shameless curation of all things emo includes a penchant for self-consciously irreverent and unwieldy song titles. They’re fantastic tracks but we’re going to be somewhat embarrassed recommending ‘John “The Rock” Cena, Can You Smell What The Undertaker’ and particularly ‘Cock Party 2 (Better Than The First)’. Come on now.

The whole enterprise is granted a layer of polish by returning producer Brett Romnes, whose impressive CV includes work with elder pop punk statesmen like The Movielife’s Vinnie Caruana and Bayside’s Anthony Raneri. This slicker, more radio-friendly sound might put off more casual listeners more interested in the band’s rawer side but it does what any good production should do: serves the songs.

Hot Mulligan clearly have their sights set on the big time and with a winning combination of Tr00 grit, bubblegum harmonies and Sanville’s unique voice, come December ‘Why Would I Watch’ is going to be in the conversation as one of the best pop-punk albums of the year. It also answers its own titular question: Why would you watch? Because it’s damn good, that’s why.

ROB BARBOUR

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