One of the strange and beautiful things about the internet is that, every now and then, those who are perpetually online can witness history happening in real time. Twitter users were privy to this particular magic in April of last year when Camp Trash guitarist Keegan Bradford unearthed a Bandcamp hidden gem called S/T, the fourth project from Michigan-based power pop quartet Liquid Mike. The group was subsequently launched into a moment of viral indie fame: Although they were still a budding local act, this wouldn’t be the case for much longer — and everyone on Twitter knew.
Now nearly a year after the release of S/T, Liquid Mike are back with Paul Bunyan's Slingshot, a new and comparatively more subdued LP that further refines the band’s unique sound. Laden with self-deprecating humour and fuzzy riffs, Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot feels like the ideal soundtrack to a crude, early-2000s coming-of-age movie.
Alongside a general feeling of gritty degeneracy, regret appears in almost all the lyrics on Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot. The album’s opening track is bluntly titled “Drinking and Driving,” and the band hit the ground running with the high-tempo power pop they’re now semi-famous for. This energy continues with more regretful decisions made in the follow-up track “K2,” a song about smoking synthetic weed with your crush and having a panic attack together. Many of the more upbeat songs on Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot might feel just a touch too familiar, as though Liquid Mike are sometimes attempting to salvage the charm and allure that made S/T so powerful.
Though they retread familiar ground a few times, they also thankfully manage to expand on their sound — it’s these more nuanced and restrained moments that make the project feel like a fresh and exciting addition to their discography, as though the band are being driven to new places by all these new ears. “Pacer” is a genuinely emotional love song, and its simple but poignant midwestern indie breakdown feels like American Football at their best. “Small Giants” is likely the most relaxed song on the album and easily one of its highlights, as Mike Maples croons about growing old and giving up. Yet even in these more intimate moments there are still traces of the band’s grit and grime: “You can shoplift any store you want,” Maples coaxes his listeners into believing in the opening lines of “Small Giants.” “It’s not pathetic if you don’t get caught.”
Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot is a fun and ambitious (but not too ambitious) expansion of Liquid Mike’s sound, filled with nostalgia, depravity and authentic introspection in its calmest and most effective moments. Although it sometimes feels like it’s clawing to meet the standard of the band’s earlier work, Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot never truly disappoints. Sometimes, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to keep things trucking.