The great white ‘hope’

Joe Shearer

Courtesy Epitaph Records

Credit: Ron Soltys

The Matches

A Band in Hope

Released by Epitaph Records

Stater rating (out of five): ***

It wasn’t terribly long ago the face of punk mega-label Epitaph Records was NOFX, Rancid, Pennywise and Bad Religion. And while a couple of these bands stuck around, the current roster is a bit more radio-friendly than it once was.

Motion City Soundtrack and the Weakerthans definitely represent a more commercialized, squeaky-clean, polished product, merely a sign of the change in times. More importantly — and it’s been official for some time now — they represent the death of punk rock.

But what to do with all these new (or is it nu) overly produced punk bands? There must be some untapped potential, some catchy chorus we haven’t heard, perhaps an album that transcends the “pop-punk/emo/screamo” theme.

Da-da-da-da! Enter the Matches. OK, let’s not get too carried away. It’s not the most revolutionary band, but this Oakland quartet manages to keep things somewhat interesting on its third album, A Band in Hope.

Firstly, if you’re a power-chorus fiend, you’ll get your fix from the very first track, “AM Tilts,” a modern new-wave song of sorts.

Of course, included are the more typical compositions you’d expect to find and take in like a room-temperature glass of water; they’re neither bad tasting nor necessarily refreshing. “We Are One,” “Point Me Toward the Morning” and “Their City” probably could’ve been dropped from the track listing, but presumably — if you buy an album in this genre — you’d like some parts of it to be . edgier?

No matter. There are enough creative moments to save Hope from being too bland, for instance, a couple of seemingly blatant Queen-esque references that actually work. The piano and background chorus in “Darkness Rising” is very “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while “Between Halloweens” is like a more guitar-heavy, riff-tastic take on “Don’t Stop Me Now.” When the keys kick in, you can almost imagine the gang from Shaun of the Dead circling and beating that zombie to the rhythm of the music.

The most admirable quality of the record is nearly every song is distinguished from the one before it. Electronics make up “From 24C,” “Clouds Crash” is a soothing blend of acoustic guitar and strings, and some Fratellis energy makes way in “If I Were You.”

Shawn Harris’ vocals may borderline whiney, and the music may not be groundbreaking, but Hope is a surprisingly refreshing spin on the played-out, radio drone of mainstream pop punk. On the downside, this may be as much as the genre can manage.

Contact all reporter Joe Shearer at [email protected].