Just Say Yes
Modern Short Stories
Punchline has been at it a decade now, and for much of it the local band has been lumped in the pop-punk genre, a categorization made easy through its tenure on the Fueled By Ramen label. But the group's new album, Just Say Yes, is being released on its own fledging Modern Short Stories label. And, perhaps by stepping back from the pop-punk machine, a side of the band has emerged more clearly -- a classic pop sensibility that reaches back to Cheap Trick and Big Star, as well as to Weezer, Ben Folds and Death Cab.
Most of the songs on Just Say Yes present Punchline -- that's Steve Soboslai, Chris Fafalios, PJ Caruso and Jon Belan -- as nice, unpretentious dudes, who are into playing guitar, hanging with friends, and low-key fun with similar-minded girls. Though there are, of course, plenty of breakup songs, including the great mid-tempo Weezery song "Maybe I'm Wrong," even the relationship drama is casually undercut. In the fuzzed-out "Get Off My Train," the singer asks, "Should I gather the facts / or just throw myself into the tracks," adding, "nah."
If you're just expecting guitar, bass, drums from Punchline, you're in for several surprises. Lush piano dominates "Somewhere in the Dark" as well as the Wings-style "The Other Piano Man," which even includes a very Queenly musical-theater middle section. And the title track, with its inventive beat, keys and mellotron, compares favorably with The Postal Service. The album closer, "Cast Away," is a full-on ballad, never flinching from its drive toward the inevitable bombastic finale.
Punchline has certainly made the slickest straight-up pop record to come out of Pittsburgh so far this year, and it's pulled this off on its own -- bravo. The album sleeve lists "A&R: Steve Soboslai" -- perhaps a wry dig at former biz associates. But here's hoping Modern Short Stories picks up a few other worthy local acts.
Punchline CD Release with Your Life and Mine and Derek White and the Monophobics. 6 p.m. (doors open) Sat., Sept. 27. Diesel, 1601 E. Carson St., South Side. $12 ($14 day of show). All ages. 412-431-8800 or www.dieselpgh.com