I’ve been waiting for a band like The Sonder Bombs to come along. The four-piece from Cleveland, Ohio has assembled an immersive collection of tracks to make up their debut album, Modern Female Rockstar. The band promises to change up the scene with their brand of unrelenting, socially conscious pop-punk – with the ukulele as a main star! Pop punk hasn’t been this fun, or sounded this important, in god knows how long. Modern Female Rockstar is urgent, shimmers, and explodes. With “Title” and “Twinkle Lights,” The Sonder Bombs join peers in UK riot grrrl group Peach Club and punk rock band Dream Wife, as well as Australian rockers Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett in penning tracks that carry hefty messages – these phenomenal artists relentlessly and publicly condemn sexual assault. But, The Sonder Bombs don’t forget to have some fun along the way, allowing their songs to revel in quickly found assurance.
What is perhaps the most remarkable thing about Modern Female Rockstar is the kaleidoscopic range of vocalist, Willow Hawks. The Sonder Bombs are already garnering some impressive comparisons, including to the pop-rock musicianship of RIOT! era Paramore, in addition to vocal similarities to Ellie Rowsell’s (Wolf Alice) sweetest moments, and Frances Quinlan’s (Hop Along) wildest moments. Take the fun album opener, “Atom,” where Hawks lets out some yelps that Hop Along fans would be proud of. The first few tracks are overflowing with quick bursts of undeniable energy and electrifying attitude. Pairing guitar and ukulele is a stroke of genius, particularly in album highlight, “U(ke) Ain’t Enough,” which sees Hawks delivering “funny how I didn’t ask what you thought / so you can kiss my ukulele punk rockin’ ass” with total sincerity. The Sonder Bombs are brimming with confidence and snark. They’re also great at writing engaging time changes (“Pot & Kettle,” “Title,” “Something I Said”) that are as great as the time change found in “Bodysnatchers” by Radiohead. I’m not kidding.
I am in awe of The Sonder Bombs’ strength as a group. In the astonishing lead single, “Title,” instruments weave and soar around Willow Hawks’ impassioned battle cry, “I don’t wanna be your merch girl, I wanna be your goddamn idol / and I don’t wanna have to work twice as hard for the same motherfuckin’ title.” Even blast beats join the mix, closing the song alongside a heavy, exciting guitar riff. “Title” is already an anthem. Aggressive guitars complement gang vocals and Hawks’ shouts beautifully. “Shoot 2 Kill”, a 36-second interlude, is ferocious. Anger really suits The Sonder Bombs. The curt revenge fantasy sees Hawks plainly stating, “I think about profiting from your death more than I probably should.” The Sonder Bombs wear their hearts on their sleeves. Every member is pissed off, they’re going to be loud, and you know what? It’s glorious.
This band can do anything. “Wild” is old-timey and sensual. “Something I Said” is one of the best songs I’ve heard all year – it’s raw and powerful, exhilarating riffs are everywhere; the climax is unique and completely earned. The Sonder Bombs examine the effect of differing power dynamics in “Something I Said,” leaving Hawks feeling small: “I’ve never seen you look at me like you did / made me feel like a stupid kid who’s fucked up again,” and ashamed: “was it something I said? It was something I said!” Willow Hawks has unleashed her inner wrath into the world: she screams, yelps, and whispers, allowing her remorseful memories to drip in sarcasm. Hawks continues showcasing her vocal acrobatics in the gorgeous “Dimly Lit.” She’s in complete control; sweet “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” are swept up alongside flashy drums and guitars. The Sonder Bombs are thrillingly bold. When that boldness is coupled with their phenomenal composure, the band is bound to break through a male-dominated scene, which is becoming increasingly stagnant in its viewpoints. Modern Female Rockstar sees a band ready to break into the stratosphere with their balance of playfulness and poignant, necessary social messages.
Clocking in at a brisk 28 minutes and nine songs, one of which is less than a minute long, Modern Female Rockstar is a confident debut album by a young band. The journey ends with the ukulele-led, shattering “Twinkle Lights,” which follows the recital of Hawks’ open letters to her fourteen and nineteen-year-old selves. “Twinkle Lights” is mostly quiet, predominantly Hawks and her ukulele, with the full band kicking in at pivotal moments. Hawks insists “there’s nothing really wrong with me,” but that’s not to be believed, as she recalls, “I’m just choking constantly” – later admitting, “oh, there’s something really wrong with me.” To be honest, I’m struggling delving into “Twinkle Lights.” It’s as heart-wrenching as “Boys Will Be Boys” – Stella Donnelly’s confronting tale against victim-blaming culture. It’s almost impossible to not flinch at Hawks tragic recollections. At fourteen: “I finally had to say ‘no.’” At nineteen, anguished: “I was 19 years old / but still not stronger than his hands across my throat / but that’s the way it goes.” The Sonder Bombs handling of instances that continue to affect people every single day is respectful and sadly powerful in its familiarity. “Twinkle Lights” is painful. It’s also unforgettable. God, I hope listeners are alarmed by this story, open up fresh conversations about consent and respect, and finally take survivors seriously.
“It’s not enough to buy my merch if you can’t look me in the eyes / and I don’t want a weaker handshake than what you gave all the guys” are words I want to live by. I’ve never been the type to fight for my beliefs outwardly, or utilize traumatic experiences as ammunition against anything that could bring me down. Maybe I should start. I’m hesitant in calling The Sonder Bombs inspirational – we’ve all seen the damage placing individuals on pedestals does, but Modern Female Rockstar’s nine tracks continuously stir a strong instinct inside me, which I thought I no longer had: the need to do something bigger with my life. With Modern Female Rockstar, The Sonder Bombs have made a spirited statement. They’re creating a new brand of pop punk. They’re not backing down from tackling excruciating themes, and their determination is likely to grow even more. The Sonder Bombs are my new favorite band. Maybe they’ll be yours, too.