It’s getting more and more difficult to leave a mark on the continually broadening “punk” scene, with plenty of bands carrying the torch of the more classic definition of the term in honor of its founders, and others taking the essence of punk and trying to turn it into something new or different. The Sidekicks’ latest album “Runners In The Nerved World,” is the sound of a band trying to accomplish the best of both worlds—utilizing the immediacy of well-established punk tropes in addition to more complex and lasting song structures, sun-bleached harmonies and arresting pop hooks. The result is a record that seems to combine the most defining characteristics of Belle and Sebastian and The Menzingers for an interesting and incredibly enjoyable listen.
The introduction to opener “Hell Is Warm” breezily conjures up a lazy, flat day at the ocean—a late-era Modest Mouse pluck coupled with some layered “ohhhs” giving an initially misleading impression of what “Runners In The Nerved World” will sound like. But from here, things speed up rather quickly—and soon “Hell Is Warm” flip-flops to showing The Sidekicks’ punk edge, a repeated, hammering belt of “how do we, how do we not get lost?” inciting all the self-aware frustration of the best early adolescent punk music. While this transition may sound disjointed at first blush, the song ties the obvious indie rock influences in with its harder-edged punk tendencies rather well as the atmosphere and the thrashing guitars meet in the song’s lead-out.
This melding of influences reflects the essence of “Runners In The Nerved World,” an album that feels transitional for the Cleveland group. But that’s not to say that “Runners” isn’t a great outing in its own right—in fact, The Sidekicks strike the balance here beautifully, the pop-punk tendencies of the catchy and faster-paced “Everything In Twos” blending in nicely next to the ‘60s pop harmonies of “The Kid Who Broke His Wrist.”
Lyrically, the album deals with the tentativeness of early adulthood—they’re instantly relatable but not always concrete or clear, much in the style of Death Cab For Cutie’s earliest songs (“I was underneath hours spent inside of that vision/ bend to hours spent inside televisions”). Lead singer Steve Ciolek delivers lines like “summer was singing ‘dreams’ and ‘loving fun’/ summer was singing both their words at once,” that sound as if The Shins’ James Mercer is doing his best Beach Boys impression. This makes for a set of tunes with a perfect mixture of catharsis, ambiguity and light-as-air springtime pop.
The record stays interesting and engaging throughout its runtime because of The Sidekicks’ ability to throw curve balls within songs. Tracks like “Spinning Seat” start off as toe-tapping rock tunes, but turn into more atmospheric indie ramblers by the end. The melodies twist in often unpredictable directions, turning these hooks into absolute earworms after a few listens.
“Runners In The Nerved World” is not The Sidekicks’ debut, but it sure feels like one. A pointed, complete statement with an impressive and well-utilized stylistic palette, along with a sort of nothing-to-lose attitude pervading the whole thing, “Runners” gives the impression of a band emerging onto the scene for the first time. Here, The Sidekicks go all-in to make a deep and lasting impression, one that is sure to remain throughout the rest of this still-young year.
Jordan Walsh can be reached at Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.org