There aren’t many bands like The Injured List anymore. The Michigan two-piece’s style of pop rock is nearly totally alien in 2020; a listen through the band’s third LP The Difference Between Giving Up & Losing calls to mind giants of yesteryear like The Audition or Valencia (or even the original incarnation of The Injured List themselves). Perhaps that’s the quality that makes it so replayable.
The band seems self-aware enough about it, too – as the record opens Nathan Marks declares, “I’ve gotta get back to my roots, to the only thing I was ever good at when I was 17.” But that isn’t to say the record coasts on a feeling of nostalgia; while the band’s sound might call back to older favorites, it’s good enough to stand on its own merits. “Honest,” the first of two songs featuring Ashley Heise on guest vocals, is an obvious standout. A synth-drenched earworm bordering on pop-punk features the record’s most memorable, if repetitive, hook of “If you can’t be honest, don’t speak.” The nearly ten-minute stretch of “Dust to Dust” and “Swim” finds the band at their best, when they take the tempo down a notch. The Injured List has always excelled at ballads, and that remains the case here. “Swim” features Marks’ best vocal performance on the record and another earworm hook. It’s one of the more dynamic songs on the record, and the inclusion of piano in the bridge helps to give the song’s final chorus a weight it might’ve lacked.
”Dust to Dust,” in particular, feels like the older brother of a cut off the band’s 2008 debut There’s Always Next Year. It’s the sort of song that fans and critics are talking about when they talk about their favorite pop band maturing. “I’d be lost without you,” Marks croons on the hook, sounding sincere without veering into saccharine. The song’s bridge features a shimmery riff that splits the difference between dream pop and country without ever fully committing to either – it’s one of the more unique moments on the album and a reminder that, while Marks can craft catchy hooks, there’s more to the band than just that.
Occasionally, he relies too heavily on repetition to make a chorus catchy (“Visit My Grave,” “Home”), which seems to be about par for the course for the genre. It doesn’t hold The Difference Between Giving Up & Losing back from being thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly replayable, and frankly fairly refreshing in 2020. The Injured List might not be breaking new ground, but what they are doing is creating one of the most fun pop-rock records of the year.