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When it comes to punk rock, it's hard nowadays to find a band that will play straightforward music, with power chords, basslines, drums, and a strong message to send across. One of these few bands is a band known as 1208, which formed in 1995 under frontman Alex Flynn, nephew of Black Flag's Greg Ginn. Their brand of anthemic, catchy, and straightforward punk rock caught the attention of Pennywise's guitarist Fletcher Dragge, who helped them get signed to Epitaph Records, and also produced their Epitaph Debut, Feedback is Payback. Along with 1208, Dragge also helped produce and promote Epitaph lablemates The Deviates.
The main forte of these bands that Dragge has taken under his wing is that they are good punk rock bands that play straightforward, no B.S. punk rock. That's also their downfall, because, well, it just gets so bland and repetitive, especially in the case of the Deviates. Musically, 1208 is a more talented band, showing off many good hooks and examples of musicianship on their debut, Feedback is Payback. On that album, 1208 made an impressive effort, offering nearly 14 tracks of anthemic punk rock that was reminiscent of bands like The Offspring and Pennywise, as well as other successful South Bay/Orange County/SoCal punk bands.
On 1208's second effort, Turn of the Screw, the band tries to change up their sound, and succeeds at that end while failing at making a better album than their last. Sure, they can still write a good hook, especially on the chorus, but their attempt to deviate from their original sound is so forced out that it ends up making them even less entertaining than they were on their debut album.
The blatant problem with this album, as stated before, is the failed experimentation. Most of these failed expirements lie within the slower, brooding tracks. Much like Stavesacre, this is a band that doesn't realize that they aren't good at slow, emotional tracks. Lead singer Alex Flynn has a very high pitched voice that doesn't fit the slow tracks at all, and the grinding guitar riffs and bass just don't work well with each other. The tracks "My Loss" and "Tell Me Again" are perfect examples. These slow songs have decent hooks in the choruses, but the rest of the song is bogged down in boring power chords and slow beats. Not only that, but they're sloppy, repetitive, and just not too fun to listen to. The musicianship seems derivative and unexciting, and the lyricism is weak at best. Nothing seems to click past the choruses. I'm also not much of a fan of attempts to bring in other instruments to add to a song, such as Yellowcard's electric violin, and 1208 does it as well, examples including a terrible piano intro on their opening effort, "My Loss". Track 13, "The Saint", also deliberately kicks off with a violin intro, which needless to say doesn't do much of anything for this song. And it's not that the majority of these ballad-paced songs suck, but in fact every effort just, well, sucks.
1208 also tries to tackle the pop-punk spectrum of their genre, ending in even more failed experimentation, although it's a little more bearable than the slow songs, but not much more. Instead of going for pop-punk reminscent of NOFX or The Descendents, we get songs like "Time to Remember", which sounds like a Sum 41 cover song, and I mean the generic bouncy pop-punk type. The lyrics are also very poorly written with many lines cheapening the lyrical quality of the song. The bouncy riffs and music once again show a genuine attempt by the band to differentiate their sound, but it just flat out doesn't work. Sum 41 can play these songs to some form of success, but 1208's sound is just too grungy, for lack of a better word, to give the song the breezy quality of a Sum 41 song, even it is the bouncy pop-punk type. More failed experimentation in the pop side of the punk spectrum follows in the form of songs like "Lost and Found", "Everyday", and "Hurts to Know". None of these songs offer an ounce of originality, and while even some of the most derivative songs can have a bit of entertainment value, none of these songs are worth more than a listen, and even that could be pushing it. Just take the worst qualities of bands like Blink-182 and Sum 41 and you'll get an idea of the generic pop-punk offered on these songs and how it gets very boring very fast.
It's not just the music that's boring and unenergetic. The lyricism, as mentioned above, seems to have taken a steep decline from their previous effort, tackling boring lyrical topics that have been beaten to death by the billion other punk bands. From lost love to anti-establishment rants, you can't help but feel the poor lyricism shown in this record has a very negative effect here. There are a few songs that have some memorable lines, and a few that are just so fun that you won't give a damn, but overall the writing is weak and shows a lack of effort on the band's part. In some cases, you could re-arrange a Pennywise song and come up with something reminiscent of what 1208 wrote here. Not too original, not too entertaining.
In the end, it's the few songs that recall the band's original sound and style that save this album from being total garbage. Sure, loading up the album with 14 of these types of songs wouldn't exactly help that much either, but as far as musicianship, energy, lyricism, and entertainment go, the best efforts can be found in these songs. 1208 goes full circle through experimentation just to realize that they're best at what they originally did. The second song on the album, "Fall Apart", offers a fast-paced, energetic pop-punk song that suits the band's sound much better than the other efforts. The chorus is well written and very catchy, and just leaves you scratching your head as to why this band would focus on subpar efforts when they're capable of writing stuff like this. "Next Big Thing" recalls old-school punk with it's repeated fist-pumping "Hey!" chants that resound after every line in the chorus, giving it a sort of Agnostic Front feel, although far less hardcore than that band's sound. The song also has a distinct Pennywise feel lyrics-wise, calling out the major labels and criticising them at every turn, and although it's a boring lyrical topic that we've heard a billion times before, the energetic music and delivery gives the message credibility.
The other good songs on this album show direct influence musically from Pennywise (without being blatantly derivative like on other efforts), as they recall some of Pennywise's better qualities. Smash the Badge features some inspired basslines and singing by Flynn in a rebellious and angry anthem. The riffs are solid throughout, with some solid drum beats backing it all up. Not You also offers some nice basslines leading into a grinding rock song, much like the album closer, "Turn of the Screw", which is the hardest song on the album. In fact, "Turn of the Screw" is a song that fiddles with the band's original sound, but in much more positive way, adding some hard rock elements backed by great basslines and beats, and adding in a refreshing guitar solo. But, ironically the best song on the album is also the last on the album.
1208 deserves props for having the guts and creativity to tinker with their original sound, but it doesn't pan out at all on their second effort. Turn of the Screw ends up a weak, inconsistent, and very derivative sophomore album that reveals the flaws and weaknesses of the band in very bright lights. It's not completely awful, but most of the efforts lack any sort of energy or replayability. It takes 14 tracks for the band and listeners to realize that they're better off sticking with what they do best, and unfortunately that's an album worth of material, which is too much. Experimentation is a tricky business, but on Turn of the Screw, 1208 did a bit too much of it. Fans of the band may want to check it out, but other than that it really offers little for those wanting to find good music.
V P is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.