Into the Agony
Asian Man Records
There is a contradiction to what the Smoking Popes make and what the conceptualization of punk might be. But that is the reason as to why Chicago’s Smoking Popes have stood out since the ‘90s and lnto The Agony, their new release, is no different.
By definition of punk, Smoking Popes could not be more that, challenging the status quo and twisting the idea of what punk is by making their own rules. For this band, those rules come from writing heart aching love songs and pairing them up to persistent and powerful music. They stand out from the Chicago scene but present themselves more endearingly Midwest.
Into The Agony is an album you would expect from this band. Driven, empathetic to the human condition, philosophically contemplative, Josh Caterer pushes his lyrics with urgency while wrapping a universal bow around each song where any can be hand picked and it becomes your personal soundtrack.
Smoking Popes – Amanda My Love
There is a divide between songs like the cover of “Get Happy.” While relevant in context to Smoking Popes ideology, the song ends up being corny. “Little Lump of Coal” feels more like a They Might Be Giants making a fireside speech that concludes as simply juvenile in its context of positivity.
Yet, there is the opener “Simmer Down” that shows this band at the top of their game. With the original lineup reformed, their strength and persistence is what makes you giddy when the jangle of the guitars fires up their infectious energy. We gather in solidarity because we have felt something out of any of these songs, especially when Caterer sings a line like “tortured dreams disguised as memory” to sound off “I Can Feel You.” The feeling is mutual. “Amanda My Love” is that love song no one wants to experience but appreciative that someone has written it. His happiness of a memory is sucked out by the tragedy of this story. You sit not knowing if you should feel ashamed for head bobbing to the upbeat rhythm or sad that Amanda could be anyone.
It’s a bright day to know the Smoking Popes are still churning out exceptional punk pop, even when Into The Agony continues to tackle some of life’s darkest moments.