PowerPoint is boring. But it can come in handy when building a case for your punk rock band. Back in early 2020, Paul Vallejo was on the cusp of graduating from college with a degree in chemical engineering. Then one of his band’s songs exploded on TikTok.
After a whirlwind of retweets from the likes of Anti-Flag and My Chemical Romance and an inbox full of messages from salivating managers and record labels, the choice between graduate school and touring with PUP seemed pretty loud and clear to Vallejo. But his parents weren’t convinced. Hence the slide deck that he slapped together to show just how much elbow grease has been put behind Pinkshift.
In the end, his parents made the right call. Pinkshift poured all their blood and sweat and tears into Love Me More, which just dropped last month courtesy of Hopeless Records. None of the songs are as hopelessly catchy as “i’m going to tell my therapist on you”, though the equally cheeky opener comes close with its crunchy chorus full of “heyoo”. But Pinkshift’s first album packs plenty of proof as to why this band is such a vital shot in punk rock’s arm.
Typically, Pinkshift get slapped with a pop-punk sticker. That label isn’t inaccurate, but it does exclude the wider sphere of influences that bonds this band together. All three members are from Baltimore (which they lovingly refer to as “Rat City”), where they met through the pre-med track at Johns Hopkins University. Outside the classroom, Vallejo memorized the post-hardcore riffs of Citizen and Pierce the Veil. After joining the campus music club, he found a full-time study buddy in Ashrita Kumar, whose notebooks were scribbled with lyrics off Nevermind.
While their musical make-ups might’ve placed them on slightly different sides of rock’s periodic table, Vallejo and Kumar quickly discovered a natural songwriting chemistry. “When you’re the one brown kid in a venue full of white kids, it’s like you’re outnumbered and you don’t know that there’s so many people out there like you” Kumar told Kerrang!. Still, Pinkshift was missing one final element: a drummer who could play fast and heavy. That wasn’t so easy to find, either. Apparently, most JHU scene kids lean toward the fluffier side of the pop-punk equation. But scouting the music halls eventually led Vallejo and Kumar to Myron Houngbedji, a fellow brain surgeon in-training, who they overhead practicing “Helena”.
You can hear all of those elements bubbling to a nice, explosive head on Love Me More. This album can still grab you by the throat with a razor-sharp chorus. “GET OUT” bolts into a roaring blur of incendiary pop-punk that reminds me of my beloved Be Your Own Pet. But the band’s first full-length packs a defter punch than their Saccharine EP. Will Yip produced all 12 tracks at Studio 4, right here in Conshohocken, though it’s Pinkshift who provide most of the extra muscle. They’ve tightened their core sound into thick, thorny contortions by pulling from punk’s jagged edges. “let me drown” covers two decades of stylistic ground, treading from “crushcrushcrush” and Khublai Khan’s bloodthirsty metalcore all the way back to the angelic obliteration of Around the Fur.
While still on the rise, Pinkshift are relatively small in stature. Heck, they’ve got less bandmates than The Wonder Years have guitarists. But they squeeze every molecule of raw power out of the basic rock band configuration. Love Me More sounds as loud as a monster truck bulldozing through hell. It’s got a couple of drops and one brittle piano ballad. Otherwise, it goes hard and fast for 37 minutes straight. Moungbedji drums like the Energizer Bunny chugged a case of Bang Energy. I counted maybe 5 whole seconds where he takes a breather from pummeling the everloving crap out of his kit with acrobatic fills and somersaulting snare rolls and double bass palpitations. The guitars are righteously wicked. “BURN THE WITCH” is especially nasty, twisting a Bloc Party riff into a pair of devil horns. Vallejo even slides in some shrieking Slash-esque stadium shredding. Kumar is just as dynamic. She can absolutely wail. But even at a trembling whisper, she carries “in a breath” all by her lonesome.
Behind that geyser of noise, there’s a deep, welled-up anger. Kumar’s wit cuts with the snark of Alex Turner. “I’ve been teen feet tall before,” they warn before stomping out some chump. But the anger on this album is sprung out of fear. “Everything just feels really hopeless,” Kumar told Stereogum. “I feel like I’m not even growing”.
Much like the heart dished up on the album’s cover, Love Me More is rife with social diseases. All of the lyrics were written over the past two years. “the kids aren’t alright” updates the punk standard for the pandemic era, replete with references to doomscrolling and a whole new generation that’s either numb or medicated. That latent anxiety rears into a waking nightmare during the video for “nothing (in my head)”, which kidnaps Pinkshift inside some kind of Orwellian social media torture chamber. Other songs are more personal, touching on dissociation and body dysmorphia. Even during those rare quiet moments, Kumar feels spun out of control, like they’re losing hold of themselves. “But all I feel is anger / And I don’t want it to be all that you see about me”, they sing on the title track. The way Kumar stretches into the upper reaches of their register, it’s like they’re clawing toward a little crack of light, only to end up buried underneath another drop D avalanche.
Love Me More is not an especially uplifting album. It’s dark and heavy, which makes it a great album for blowing off steam. These songs make you want to slam into the outstretched arms of a total stranger. So they will sound great when Pinkshift plays First Unitarian Church this Saturday. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. I strongly suggest you be there and that you come prepared to scream and sweat. Tickets are $16 a pop.
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