This is it how it should always happen. Relient K, a band once known for quirky little pop culture references peppered with mild God-isms, is now a pop-rock powerhouse. With more former members than current ones, the band has somehow outlasted every complication, including 2007’s absolutely terrible output Five Score and Seven Years Ago. That abomination’s only silver lining is its sneak peeks at the joy within Forget and Not Slow Down. Singer Matt Thiessen has bounced back with the best choruses and most emotionally charged songs of his career. But what becomes most apparent during Forget and Not Slow Down is its cohesiveness, that indefinable feeling when everything is exactly where it should be. A first for the band, intros like “Oasis” and outros like “Flare” create brief moments of reflection before their counterparts continue the noble task of blowing us away. Lucky you, welcome to 2009’s Swan Song.
Instantly infectious, “Forget and Not Slow Down” starts with the words, “How many times can I push it aside? / Is it time I befriended all the ghosts of all the things that haunt me most?,” and it becomes clear that we are in for a personal (but thoughtful!) record. A certain level of intelligence is expected from Relient K at this point, so the real sigh of relief comes when Hoopes and Thiessen lead the charge into an explosively memorable chorus. Some formulas just work, and Forget and Not Slow Down’s mid-tempo, uplifting rock succeeds more triumphantly than you’d think. “I Don’t Need A Soul” adds a slowed-down bridge to the proceedings so that we can build up into a heavenly sugar rush. “Candlelight” is an Mmhmm song on steroids with its tinkling percussion and oh-so-light backing vocals. We couldn’t have asked for a more pleasing introduction.
But let’s be honest, these aren’t really wacky left turns for the band. It’s hard to make something stand out after 10 years of doing small rewrites in the same essay. What makes these “better” than Relient K’s other works is the band’s steadfastness in creating each song’s mood. “Savannah” is all at once the band’s lightest and heaviest fare. Abstractly picked guitar and Thiessen in hushed tones means it could all erupt into another radio ready chorus, but instead the mood stays subdued. We’re completely in their hands, following along in awe. “This Is The End” catapults from an antsy piano ballad into the album’s loudest, punk-est number. Thiessen has a bite in his vocals that he has of late kept under lock and key: “You’re not the first thing in my life that I’ve loved and lost / Yeah I’ve done worse things that I might be less inclined to merely just shrug off.” In the same way that we tip-toed behind “Savannah”, we fist pump and burn s**t to the ground while “This Is The End” smashes around. A classical-ish piano part then connects “This Is The End” with closer “(If You Want It)”, and don’t be alarmed if you have no idea what to expect. Pop-punk bands rarely create actual drama, but on first listen a happily anxious vibe will overtake you while Thiessen tones himself down over a grand string section. Is he going to unleash or what? He croons, “I’ve been convincing myself that I’m worthwhile / Cause I’m worth what I’ll convince myself to be.” And then it happens, right?
You’ll find out soon enough.