Published Mar 03, 2020In the last couple of years, Hot Mulligan have emerged as one of those bands for people in certain alt-rock circles to keep an eye on. The Michigan-based band made their full-length debut in 2018 with Pilot, a collection of competent, if mostly generic, pop punk.
While still not exactly carving a path entirely their own, Hot Mulligan have put together a much more interesting package with You'll Be Fine. Here, their sound is modelled around the unreservedly impassioned songwriting, crisp guitar tones and full-throated fervour that was all but perfected on the Hotelier's Home, Like Noplace Is There, and this album rings loudly with the ambition of making another cult classic. Hot Mulligan swung for the bleachers and landed just inside the park, but it's nevertheless one of the more well-executed and enjoyable samples of this style, standing above or adjacent to others like Tiny Moving Parts and Free Throw.
Hot Mulligan have many of the markings of a band steeped in the esoteric subculture that you can find in the middle part of the Venn diagram of modern pop punk and the emo revival, including jokey non-sequiturs for song titles like "Green Squirrel in Pretty Bad Shape" and "Dirty Office Bongos" and an online identity that often revolves around dope smoking. The lyrics are far more piercing than their titles suggest — dealing largely with anxiety, waywardness and the feeling of frustration with oneself and others — and while they're peppered with adolescent clichés, "OG Bule Sky" and "BCKYRD" show flashes of an expressive poet lurking underneath and "Digging In" holds nothing back in its uncompromising indictment of a perpetrator of sexual assault.
The band have honed in on a great sound, taking the punch-and-crunch of pop punk and layering it with shimmering atmospherics and fancy, fluttery guitar work. "Feal Like Crab" is a dynamic, well-crafted tune about feeling empty-headed and useless. The power-pop bop of "*Equip Sunglasses*" showcases a capable rhythm section with a sturdy groove and swagger. The biggest highlight, "BCKYRD," ought to be a shoe-in for any 2020 emo-punk playlist.
Likely the first thing you'll notice is the relentless, larynx-shredding vocal style of lead singer Nathan "Tades" Sanville. It usually fits, but it does get to be a bit much; the otherwise lovely, peppy opening tune "OG Bule Sky" assaults you with enough of it early on that you can decide quickly whether you're in or out. Some of the record's best moments — the bridge hook of "We're Gonna Make It to Kilby!," for example — occur when Sanville pulls it back a notch and the band settles into a more communal rhythm. It brings out the more intricate subtleties of the parts that make up their whole, and reveals a band that benefits greatly when they're still heavy on the gas pedal, but not completely flooring it.
Hot Mulligan tick just about all the boxes for diehard devotees to the emo way of life, and You'll Be Fine is a fierce bit of genre fare that's likely not an ideal proposition for newcomers or sceptics. (No Sleep)