I have always appreciated pop punk for its simplicity. It invokes energy into a common narrative of humanity. From the opening chords of Blood Sweat and Beers, Envious Disguise achieves this, motivating the listener to follow the path of least resistance, which is to continue the experience. Like life, the songs are filled with confusion, nostalgia, and the grind of present reality, but Envious Disguise delivers this with a Sisyphean complexity apparent in both the lyrics and the music, showing the process of the release and all the efforts they’ve made are as important as the moment of relief when this rolls into your ears. As “She Hates Me” says, “You get what you deserve because you deserve it.”
What Envious Disguise deserves is a little credit for taking an approach that appears standard for its pop punk genre upon initial listen, passing the litmus test, but tweaking the formula in ways that can be subtly appreciated. As drummer Dom Mangano states, “We’re not the first band to ever play this stuff. We want to make it better.” One way they are structurally working toward that end within the limits of a 3-piece is by making the bass, rather than percussion, the backbeat of the band. Bassist Nick Gilboe creates a solid foundation, which allows Mangano to be loose and creative, to the point that, along with the driving guitar work of Kyle Jennejohn, there is no noticeable absence of lead guitar or any other element one might find in a larger outfit. Envious Disguise’s confidence in their musical delivery is apparent from the start with “Jump!” (track 1) ending in a 2-minute instrumental that does not want for vocals. The musical experience is cleverly bookended with the concluding track, “Stranger”, which is the most musically ambitious on the disc, blasting off aggressively before slamming into half time, only to accelerando back to the original tempo, before departing into a pleasant antiphon. It’s not math rock, but it’s complex.
On the flip side of complexity, truth in modern music is often found in the universality of its stories, and Blood Sweat and Beers speaks to those moments triumphantly. “Loathing”, with its ghostly notes backing only guitar and vocals to begin, speaks of losing that childhood friend, wishing there was that last moment to say, “we could pull off one last prank.” When the song kicks into the full group, and the promise, “It’s not over yet,” completes the track, the passion behind the words is evident. For another track, “For What It Was Worth”, Mangano shared the back story. “When I was in high school there was a girl that I liked for all 4 years, but she never was really into it. But we started hanging out more because we were friends with the same people. One night we were sitting alone in the same room, and it was awkward. She wouldn’t say anything. So I ended up drinking myself silly and writing the song [with her] about 4 feet away from me.” Songs about an experience cannot often claim to be written during an experience; it cannot get more intimate. Topically, almost everyone closely knows the story of unreturned desire in some incarnation, so like much of Blood Sweat and Beers, the lyrics are wrought with identifiable phrases from the past or present, helping Envious Disguise create a collective narrative that goes far beyond its members.
From my introduction to pop punk as a listener, I ate up the energy and the straightforward delivery, which has to be common to fans. I didn’t have to be angry or depressed to enjoy, but I also didn’t need to be naively optimistic. As I burned through compilations and skate park basements taking in all the punk I could, I started to develop this jaded feeling that all bands sounded alike until a friend put me onto Lagwagon. I could tell they were constantly working on their craft, and I believed they believed what they were saying. Envious Disguise is on a similar path of integrity. Blood Sweat and Beers is approachable and believable, and it takes challenges that earn repeated listens in single sittings.