REVIEW: Better Off – ‘Milk’

Better Off Milk feature

Artist: Better Off
Album: Milk
Genre: Emo, Pop-punk
Label: Equal Vision Records

In the weeks that have passed since Better Off announced their sophomore record, the absolutely reckless quad-stack peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the album’s cover art has surpassed all of the pre-release singles in buzz. Maybe there’s a good reason for that. At first glance, the several-hundred-calorie sandwich has all of the characteristics of a good-looking meal; sugary jelly is sure to satisfy the taste buds, while white bread will help to absorb the fair amount of liquor one would have had to drink to create such a monster of a sandwich. There’s probably even a healthy amount of protein in that peanut butter, which will keep the stomach satisfied for hours after eating.

That sandwich is a damn good indication of where pop-punk music stands in 2015. Sure, it’s loaded with sugar and all kinds of things that you know you like. It might even have enough substance to keep you feeling full for a while. But regardless of how pretty it may look in all of its excessive glory, it’s still tastes like the same PB&J we’ve all been eating for lunch every day since the dawn of time. There’s nothing new or creative there; there’s just way too much of it.

Enter Milk, which is sure to wash that hideous sandwich away in the most cool, refreshing and welcome gesture possible.

In contrast to the rest of the increasingly-stale genre of emo-infused pop-punk, Milk is extraordinarily dynamic and constantly impressive. The band rarely dwells on a thought for too long, and a large sampling of familiar musical styles cycle through with careful practice. Tracks like “Dresser Drawer” and “This Day Will Never End” channel Bleed American-esque pop-punk with brilliant regard for well-written melodies. “Mary In Chains” and “Suicide Island” explore guitar-led rock and roll sensibilities, while “A Lesson In Loving” enlists a distorted acoustic guitar for the band’s closest attempt at a ballad. The record’s 90-second interlude is a straight-up hardcore punk song, complete with a 1990s-inspired, beat-down ready chord progression and a few unexpected grunts and screams. Aside from the fun break it provides in the emo-tinged action, the interlude does a wonderful job of bridging the slow, melody-driven “You’re Alright” with the infectious, grunge-flavored single, “Whatever, I Don’t Care.” What’s really impressive about the constant shift between styles is the band’s ability to keep the record feeling cohesive and well put together. The interlude is sure to catch first-time listeners by surprise, but once it sets in, it feels well-executed and entirely necessary in the record’s sequencing.

Luke Granered’s insanely catchy vocal melodies provide the basis for most of Milk‘s best moments, but the tasteful guitar work from lead guitarist Hunter Walls is never overshadowed. Look no further than album closer “Myself In A Pill,” which features the duo at their finest. Superb riffage and a relaxed pace set the landscape for the record’s best chorus and one of emo’s best guitar solos in recent memory. With producer Arun Bali of Saves The Day at the soundboard, the guitars are warm and inviting, yet gritty and biting whenever necessary; reminiscent of early Weezer, Milk‘s guitar work sounds lo-fi and garagey without feeling cheap. Interesting drum lines round out the sonic atmosphere, and Matt McClellan’s mixing work makes Milk easy on the ears.

For all of Milk‘s strengths in the musical department, the record has a few cringe-inducing lyrics that take me out of the moment entirely. “Dresser Drawer” is undeniably one of the record’s most impressive moments, but the chorus’ refrain of “Blew all your brains out on my lawn / felt grass touch hands so soft / If pale white skin could save the world / you’d save us all” would fit in perfectly with other melodramatic offerings from the early-2000s emo/pop-punk landscape. In more ways than one, the lyric reminds me a great deal of that iconic second verse about slitting throats and bloody t-shirts in Taking Back Sunday’s “You’re So Last Summer”– it’s sure to be popular with a large portion of the band’s fanbase, but others will roll their eyes at the dramatically violent imagery. “Suicide Island” is another offender in the overly-dramatic lyrical department, while “Whatever, I Don’t Care” swings and misses in its largely directionless commentary on American culture.

Lyrical gripes aside, Better Off have set a high bar for alternative rock in 2015 with Milk. Interesting, varied, and consistently fun, Milk is sure to surprise countless future fans this fall, and cement Better Off as one of the scene’s best young bands. There will certainly be days where that horrid PB&J sandwich will hit the spot and feel right, but it’ll go down a lot easier knowing we’ve got Milk around.

SCORE: 8.8/10

John Bazley

John Bazley was raised in central New Jersey by the romantic aura of the Asbury Park beachfront, punk rock, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. He is still trying to figure all of this stuff out.

In addition to UTG, John has contributed to Alternative Press and Full Frequency Media. Follow him on Twitter for pictures of his dog.
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