Published May 25, 2016After more than a decade and several solid releases, Half Hearted Hero still aren't exactly a household name in the pop-punk world. That's kind of too bad because, while they're admittedly not a total "can't miss," they've been consistently enjoyable, and they're more deserving of attention than some of what does get attention in the genre.
Over the years, the Massachusetts band have steadily moved away from the breakneck skate-punk (and throwbacks to their Ontario influencers, the Fullblast) of their earlier years toward a more measured and balanced approach to catchy punk rock. Isn't Real is a further step in this direction, and by far the band's most well-written and interesting record.
Throughout Isn't Real, there are healthy doses of Saves the Day and Motion City Soundtrack, most noticeably on the more upbeat, pop-and-rock-leaning tracks, and influences from bands like Polar Bear Club and Bayside on the louder, more driving sections.
The album starts strongly, as "Throw It Away" channels Futures-era Jimmy Eat World with its crunchy guitar tone, honeyed harmonies and head-bobbing refrain. They hit a great pace on "Same Old Same," a sprightly song that frames life's banality with optimism. And then there's "Missing Something," a bluer tune that's oddly comforting.
The album sags in the middle with the more hard-edged "Want to Be" and "Invisible City," which are jarring when set against the album's otherwise smooth surface. But the record returns for its highest point with "All of Me," thanks to its rich tone and soaring chorus. "Sky Blue" treads into Title Fight territory for a moment before the album closes with the laidback but slightly lukewarm "Sleepwalking" and "What Light."
In many ways, Isn't Real feels like a spiritual successor to the Swellers, a band that had a similar artistic progression from melodic speed-punk to more tempered pop-rock, and which fans felt were gone too soon. While this may not be a must-have, it's a very good effort from a band whose sound may otherwise have gotten a little stale. If not super memorable, it's certainly enjoyable — and it's a worthy change of course. (Animal Style)