Editor’s Note: This column will deal lightly with allegations of sexual misconduct.
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. The idea you can love a song privately and then be ashamed of it in public is wild to me. Either something is good and you stand by it or it isn’t and you don’t. Despite this belief, there are some genres that I’m less enthusiastic about openly supporting. This is rooted in moral or social concern rather than the subjective quality of an artist.
The most obvious example is black metal, which rose to notoriety because of the deranged acts of one of its most influential groups. Black metal has been taking home the gold in the unethical olympics for decades, but the silver medalist is a relatively recent one.
The primary issue facing pop punk today is its culture of abuse. This is not a new phenomenon, but the advent of the #MeToo movement has only recently brought it to light. Now it seems like some form of heinous misconduct comes out nearly every week.
I grew up on pop punk, though. The first CD I remember owning was a copy of Motion City Soundtrack’s “Commit This to Memory,” given to me by my brother Ben. In middle school, I listened to a ton of Ramones and Jimmy Eat World. I still love them and countless other pop punk acts, old and new.
This piece isn’t about separating art from the artist. What I am interested in doing is providing a guide to an underrated and underrepresented genre in a way that sidesteps that issue entirely. What follows is a starter pack for pop punk, featuring some of my favorite records made by people who (at the time of writing this) have no abuse allegations.
#5: Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (1994)
There was a time when the biggest scandal rocking pop punk was Jawbreaker “selling out” for a million-dollar contract with DGC Records on their 1995 album “Dear You.” That criticism is stupid, and “Dear You” is a great record. It doesn’t hold a candle to “24 Hour Revenge Therapy,” though. While “Accident Prone” is a better song than anything on “Revenge Therapy,” “Dear You” lacks the consistency of its predecessor. “Revenge Therapy” is 38 minutes of everything pop punk aims to be; fun, catchy, and constantly stuck in your head.
#4 PUP – The Dream Is Over (2016)
“The Dream Is Over” is one of my most listened-to records ever, and for good reason. The hooks hit hard, the guitars are clean, and the one-two punch of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” into “DVP” is one of the strongest starts to an album in music history. Seeing PUP at The Granada on tour for this record was one of the most killer concerts I’ve ever attended.
#3 The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past (2012)
Pop punk and heartland rock is a combination I didn’t know I needed until I first spun this record. Now I constantly wish I had another album that captures the magic this one does. “On the Impossible Past” isn’t the most consistent record of all time; there are some duds. “Sculptors and Vandals” and, to a lesser extent, the title track represent some real low points on the record. They only stand out so heavily because tracks like “Burn After Writing” and “Gates” take the album to such great heights. This is the experience of being a teenager in the early 2010s, condensed into album form.
#2 The Get Up Kids – Four Minute Mile (1997)
A professor once described the way I dress as “someone who listens to a lot of The Get Up Kids.” I’m still not sure what that meant, but it’s definitely true. The Get Up Kids are the biggest reason I take pride in being from Kansas City. Their blend of pop punk and midwest emo is a near perfect one. They masterfully take the best parts of each, combining interesting, twinkly guitar lines with catchy vocal hooks. They are immediate and fun, but remain personal and emotional. “No Love” is a highlight here, and might be my favorite breakup song of all time.
#1 Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY. (2016)
Jeff Rosenstock cut his teeth in the ska punk outfit Bomb the Music Industry!, but there’s no ska on “WORRY.” Instead, there’s a powerful palette of pop punk, power pop, and indie rock that effortlessly evokes the aimlessness and angst of American youth today. “WORRY.” is one of my favorite records because it delivers these feelings in the most fun way imaginable. When Rosenstock says he wants “the song of the American dorm room” on “Pash Rash,” you can tell he means it. By the end of “Festival Song,” it’s clear he’s gotten it.