PUP’s aesthetic isn’t a cool one. It’s not wrapped in two layers of irony, obsessed with a worldview, or holier-than-thou. Words that can describe both the band and The Dream Is Over are simple ones: loud, brash, louder, unsettled, loudest. In fact, naming their album The Dream Is Over is probably the most complicated thing about it, if only because it requires a backstory. (A doctor gave singer Stefan Babcock an apocalyptic diagnosis after observing his shredded vocal chords. But you know that already.) Everything else is pretty straightforward.
The Dream Is Over is a road album, but one that spends quite a bit of time discussing the home left behind. Toronto is a place I know nothing about, but the people (and pets) watching from the driveway as the van pulls away are all too familiar. Like fellow Canadians Japandroids before them, Pup speed through their songs with something that sounds like youthful abandon, but is actually much more evolved. Dealing with everything from newly rediscovered lost loves, the death of a cherished pet, inner-band strife and whether their so-called dream is actually worth dreaming, Pup’s second album covers a lot of ground in 31 minutes.
The opening gut punch of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I will” and “DVP” are mere refinements of the band’s snotty take on alternative music. Babcock’s voice will always skew the band towards pop-punk, but The Dream Is Over’s defining characteristic is its guitar work. Big, beautiful, messy, jittery guitar solos pop up everywhere. Babcock and Steve Sladkowski’s virtuosity on “Sleep In The Heat,” the band’s new gold standard, could turn even the hippest summer festival into a debauched mishmash of moshing bodies. The song, raucous as it is, is somewhat of a tearjerker due to it being about Babcock’s deceased chameleon Norman: “Went to the vet and cashed all my savings and loans / But it was too late / You were letting go.” It’s a good indication of how Pup deal with their problems – quiet introspection this is not – but the rapid-fire sentimentality can be just as healing.
“The Coast,” one of a few songs discussing the band’s Canadian roots, finds Babcock at his most poetic, trading subdued verses for throat-ripping screams that must give his former doctor heart palpitations. More than a little menacing, Babcock’s declaration of “Now you know what’s eating me!” will be a hell of a lot of fun to scream back at him on the road this summer. “Old Wounds” is perhaps the album’s only miss, as it doubles down on screeches from both Babcock’s voice and Sladkowski’s guitars. Its discord slathered atop dissonance, and it’s The Dream Is Over’s only merely ok song.
“My Life Is Over And I Couldn’t Be Happier” shows how fine that line is though, as its a classic punk middle finger to a scorned lover that takes disjointed guitar thrashes and transforms them into a catchy song still more pop than anything else. “Can’t Win” is all gang vocals and existential malaise, while “Familiar Patterns” contains The Dream Is Over’s thesis: “They used to say ‘don’t quit your day job’ / Guess what? I never had one!” Eff you, the accounting firm Ernst & Young or whatever.
While this idiot’s choice for album closer initially would have been “Sleep In The Heat,” the band astutely went with “Pine Point.” Beginning as a retro, slow-burning rocker with some horrifying bits of storytelling (“My older brother died when we were kids / His best friend was wasted at the wheel”), it sounds closer to canine brethren Dr. Dog than Pup. And at first blush, it seems content to follow the all-too-familiar slow-yet-epic finale trope; we’ve been going 90 MPH this whole time, why pump the breaks now? But this is Pup, and this is far from a chance to catch your breath. The song culminates in something that is equal parts pretty(ish) and devastating; something that feels bigger than a Summer 2016 release. In another time, it could be an honest-to-goodness classic, a song as inward as it is motivational. “I hope you know / I hope you know what you’re doing after all / I hope that you know what you’re doing,” Babcock implores, both to us and himself. It’s a typically simple statement, but one Babcock feels necessary to both end the album with and repeat three times. And if there’s one thing you learn on The Dream Is Over, it’s that knowing what you’re doing and knowing what you want to be doing are two very separate things.