The lone, bright guitar that chimes it’s way through the intro to Sonic Avenues’ “Givin’ Up On You” is a bit of a tease. That’s because Television Youth—the second album from this Montreal group—largely doesn’t pause long enough for such inspired moments. Instead, it’s full-steam-ahead for a half-hour of pop-punk that’s about a decade behind the times. Sure, the candy is sweet, but there aren’t enough ingredients to balance out the extreme sugar.
At least the band goes for broke. The record is full of breakneck head-rushes that conjure up images of guitarists in power stances, lots of drummer face, and maybe even some unabashed old-school crowd-surfing. That’s great and all, but those things are reserved for the live setting, where a band like Sonic Avenues can totally kill. On record, the music is put under the spotlight. That’s where you can play the “spot the purloined influences game” ad nauseum. There’s a lot of the classic late ‘70s sound, from the Jam (“Throw It Away”) to the Buzzcocks (“Waste Away Alone”), but lead singer Max Desharnais’s high-pitched yelp puts the music firmly in cloying territory. The muscular songs are largely wasted as a result, especially with the omnipresent gang vocals that obliterate any melodic highlights.
Sonic Avenues do go for a little punk-rock preaching on the title track, lamenting their peers as “another lost generation / Television youth.” It’s rousing and fairly effective, but not when surrounded by nine other songs that largely tackle the same malaise with the same results. The message comes across as snotty and annoying rather than uplifting due to the songs’ overt similarity to each other.
That sameness has some positive to it. The band gets the production exactly right: everything is washed in trebly dirt, making for a particularly live-in-the-garage sounding record. If there’s one thing that pop-punk bands get wrong, it’s ironing out all the rough edges. Sonic Avenues keep some of the grime intact, and they’re more palatable as a result.
Television Youth is fun and light, but these kinds of records are a dime-a-dozen in nearly any city’s local music scene. Sonic Avenues might be too late to cash in on the pop-punk boom, but if they stick around long enough, they’re bound to be a leading light in any nostalgic rehash that comes around the corner. As it stands, they’re stuck in a middle gear.