It’s understandable that when an artist comes forth with the idea, whether imminent or already set-in-motion, to release solo material, fans of whatever larger group that artist is a part of, immediately comes into question. That small flash panic of, “Is the band breaking up?” inevitably makes its way to the surface and the answer is one of either confirmation or denial. Luckily for fans of Evergreen Park’s City Mouth, lead vocalist and songwriter Matt Pow quelled any concern of the indie synth pop-rock band’s dissolution, right in tandem with the release of his debut single, “dancing song.”
In the case of Pow, his first official solo composition being released under the moniker, Punchbug, makes for a logical separation from City Mouth’s inextricably group-driven efforts. The easiest evidence of this comes from the distinctly digital core of “dancing song’s” sonic personality. While Pow has never been shy about proclaiming his appreciation for the deeply artificial sounds of old Casio keyboards, bold vocal modulation, and catchy motifs, the individual artistry and organically performed contributions of each member of City Mouth makes the band’s music inherently fastened to and fueled by its group dynamic, even with songs where digital effects or instrumental sounds play a more prominent role. This subtle differentiation works in Punchbug’s favor, as the pairing of Punchbug’s vocals with more digital instrumentation won’t come as a stark surprise or feel like a radical heel turn from what listeners are used to hearing, while still leaving plenty of room for an undeniably new musical expression from Pow.
The beauty of “dancing song” comes from Punchbug’s astute juggling of this stylistic cohesion and the song wastes no time showing that blend to listeners.
So tired of talkin’ ’bout drama
so sick of saying I’m sad
dwelling from dusk until dawn I
think it’s getting kinda bad
– Lyrics from “dancing song”
The prompt appearance of a digital drum loop, a beep-style synth tone instilling the song’s main descending note motif, and the tapping of ukulele for primary “rhythm guitar duties” is all rather light in outward tonality, while the casually self-reflective lyrics show Punchbug retaining a personal, individualized touch in his storytelling and thought-sharing. Interestingly, the way that opening line is written presents it in a connective, almost spin-off- like light for any fans of City Mouth, as those familiar with the band are no stranger to its intimately emotional and often serious lyrics. Yet it’s not such a strong link with any kind of lyrical Easter egg that passersby of find Punchbug will be left in the dark right out of the gate.
These first few bars leave “dancing song” sitting pretty tame by the arrival of the chorus – particularly when the instrumental parts backing Punchbug strip down even further to feature just ukulele and the tiniest touch of a single note synth part acting as harmonizing bassline in the pre-chorus right before. It’s at this point where “dancing song” seems to leave itself most vulnerable to thoughts of perhaps underperforming to its potential, to Punchbug’s known depths as an imaginative songwriter – especially bearing an actionable title like “dancing song” However, it just takes some trust to get to that first splash of chorus and then any doubts fly away, as the arrangement flips on a dime to reveal the works: layered harmonized vocals; a much bolder, nicely wet-toned snare hit that sounds like a snappy splash on the off-beats, and a subtler but vibrant stream of more synth tones that evoke the rapid flittering of smooth, rounded, game tones in a bustling arcade.
While the piece as a whole is structurally straightforward (verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus), “dancing song” doesn’t run out of steam after that first blast of sonic color. Each subsequent section offers the slightest shift in what’s already been presented, whether it’s through a touch of extra reverb on Punchbug’s vocals, a louder drum fill with a dry but more spacious tone, or even a little element like the second verse opening with a few seconds of a gentle ticking effect (one not drowning in reverb like the signature of Zedd) right over corresponding lyrics declaring “We’re always ticking like time bombs.” That last creative choice is perhaps a bit on the nose but it makes for a pleasant sonic nod nonetheless.
All in all, “dancing song” is a superb solo debut. It’s a rock solid pop song that hits the ear and the soul with a bright surge of energy of sweet citrus soda. If anything, it’s only a shame that the song’s slightly conventional form leaves it done after a much too brief two minutes and 45 seconds. On the other hand, “dancing song’s” embrace of dancing to let go of one’s fear and appreciate joys of the present make it just the right size single to quickly dance away the slowness of the next long day or the sourness of a bad mood.
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