To the inattentive ear, the only change New Found Glory have ever made to their pop punk sound was 2006's punk-ditching Coming Home, which found pianos, strings and a more rock influence throughout. Though that may be their most drastic, those dialled in will find a band who increasingly avoid making the same album twice, be it their return to easycore with that album's followup Not Without a Fight or its successor, the more radio-friendly Radiosurgery.
With the departure of longtime guitarist Steve Klein, 2014's Resurrection saw the streamlined band giving a fresh take on hardcore-lite pop punk, almost as if to prove they've still got it, besting their aforementioned easycore revival in the process. Their latest, Makes Me Sick, finds the heaviest synth presence since they collaborated with James Dewees (The Get Up Kids, Reggie and the Full Effect).
The keys in opener "Your Jokes Aren't Funny" bring to mind Motion City Soundtrack, but worry not, this ain't a retread of pop punk's Moog masters. More often than not, the retro synth sounds are transplanted from the distant past and applied here. The opening riff of "Barbed Wire" shreds in near-metal fashion, with the bright keyboard accents adding a layer of sunshine. Sure, these flourishes could have been played on a guitar, and in the band's two-guitar past might have been, but not doing so adds another flavour, and though the shred doesn't return in the chorus, the opening synths do and subliminally make you recall the guitar until it actually returns for a very satisfying closure.
The chorus of "The Cheapest Thrill," meanwhile, has perhaps the busiest synths, and exhibits why their inclusion works so well — adding a whole other barb on which to get caught. "Say It Don't Spray It" speaks with xylophone sounds atop a jangly guitar riff.
Alas it's not always a success, with the "Under the Sea" vibes of "The Sound of Two Voices" bringing to mind the tropical vibes of the album art, but sounding entirely out of place. Although it can't be pinned on the band's new favourite instrument, the choruses of "Party on Apocalypse" and "Blurred Vision" suffer from repetitive vocal patterns and lazy lyrics respectively.
Still, a few minor missteps don't derail the album. What's most impressive is that, 20 years deep, New Found Glory are still putting out compelling music and growing tastefully with each release. (Hopeless)