When Toronto’s Pkew Pkew Pkew released their debut self titled album back in 2016, it was the perfect (almost to a cliche) pop-punk album with catchy sing-along songs about skating, ordering pizza, and partying. Yes it was completely mindless, but incredibly fun. After 3 years they’re finally back, releasing their sophomore album Optimal Lifestyles earlier this month.
There are some major differences between the two albums. Lyrically, the band has (mostly) matured. This is good as there’s only so many albums you can essentially make about nothing before it gets old, and Optimal Lifestyles is an album which deals with self-reflection and the journey of coming of age. We see this with songs like “I Don’t Matter At All” with lyrics like “And I can’t sit back and relax anymore/I got a lot of people helping but I won’t help myself” and the theme runs throughout the album.
With Optimal Lifestyles you really feel the all too relatable internal struggle, battling between holding on to old habits/friends/hangouts that leave you questioning being stuck and doing the same damn things you did years ago, while also looking at it with nostalgia even though you’re still living it. The piano ballad “Everything’s The Same” really encapsulates this feeling. I know what you’re thinking… “a piano ballad song on a Pkew Pkew Pkew album?” which leads me to my next point.
The music is really different on Optimal Lifestyles, and people expecting the straight forward pop-punk from the first album will be disappointed. Pkew Pkew Pkew worked with Craig Finn from The Hold Steady on Optimal Lifestyles who helped with the writing, and the influences show. While the piano ballad is limited to just one song, the album as a whole is incredibly poppy and a bit all over the place. If I’m being completely honest this is a huge sticking point for me, and part of the reason I held off on posting a review for a while until giving it a few more listens.
The first 3 songs (Still Hanging Out After All These Years, I Don’t Matter At All, and Point Break) still sound very much like PPP (albeit a poppier version), but then things start to change. Some songs are just too poppy for my personal liking… “Drinking Days” could easily pass for a Good Charlotte song written back in 2002 and I’m not being hyperbolic. Meanwhile some songs wear their influences on their sleeves a little too much: I like both of them, but single “65 Nickels” might as well be a pop-punk cover of The Cars “You Might Think” while “Thirsty And Humble” is essentially an electrified version of Billy Bragg’s “To Have And To Have Not”. Finn’s influence could especially be heard on songs like “The Polynesian” and “Skate 2” where the vocals almost sound like him and the music is a poppier Hold Steady.
I realize this sounds like I’m shitting on the album, but I’m not. Pkew Pkew Pkew nails the sound well, but you need to go in knowing that it sounds different than the first. They sprinkle enough pop-punk to keep me interested, and songs like “Mt Alba”, “I Don’t Matter At All”, “Point Break” and “I Wanna See A Wolf” are all incredibly solid. It’s a decent, catchy enough listen and one I don’t find myself really skipping many songs, but besides a few select tracks I don’t think it comes close to topping their debut.
Still Hangin After All These Years, I Don’t Matter At All, Point Break, 65 Nickels, Mt Alb.