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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Getting heavy with The Lightweights

Published: November 4, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

While trying to find new bands to listen to, I’ve come across some truly unique new acts that I find mind-blowing—not because of their sounds but because it seems that no one is aware of them. Case in point, The Lightweights, a pop-punk powerhouse from San Antonio, Texas, reiterate everything that Blink-182 bashed forward with in 1994.

True to the power-trio ethic of pop-punk greats like Blink-182, Green Day and Eve 6, The Lightweights is comprised of members Danny Kittrell (vocals and guitar), Markí Vallejo (bass and vocals) and Max Oliver (drums and vocals). With an intense guitar-driven sound mixed with chewy chunks of bass and drums rhythm, The Lightweights take a stab at revamping a sound that has taken a backseat in recent years to overly auto-tuned pop and generic R&B. With their full-length release “We Invented Awkward,” The Lightweights move in on recreating the sound reminiscent of their early playing.

From the start of the record and just by going through a few snippets of its tracks, I am already enamored with the song “Time.” If nothing else, what this song has going for it is a real rush of old-school pop-punk snot and sneer. Raw with plenty of energy packed into Vallejo’s jutting baselines, “Time” makes for one of the most entertaining, if not exceptional, tracks on the album. With Kittrell’s guitar chords raggedly rasping at the sides of Oliver’s drumbeats, the mixed vocal performance of Kittrell, Vallejo and Oliver certainly adds a dynamic to the song clearly reminiscent of Blink-182. Clocking in at just more than four minutes, “Time” is one of the songs on the album that has the raw crossover potential of which pop-punk bands dream.

Blink-182 and early Green Day fans will also find a classic track with the song “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend.” A slightly different take on Rick Springfield’s song “Jessie’s Girl,” “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” dances around in classic juvenile insults and immature lyrical content. Yet, for some reason, it seems to work and, in the same way that Blink-182 made snot-nosed immaturity cool, The Lightweights take their cue from “Cheshire Cat” and marry blunt and funny lyrics with raw instrumentation that proves this trio really means business. Oliver’s drumming is one of the highlights of this track, as his beats bang through your head as Kittrell’s guitar chords drill through skull-bone to brain-matter. Vallejo’s bass chords line the rhythmic pockets of this diamond-in-the-rough song and, with tracks like these, The Lightweights are sure to find an audience in those of us longing for good old sneering pop-punk. The song concept also reaches out to anyone who has ever had a best friend with a girlfriend who he or she couldn’t stand. The Lightweights truly outdo themselves on this one.

Still, The Lightweights prove themselves to be more than simple punks with three-chord progressions. Songs like “Tell Me” and “Shocking Amount” show an acute amount of raw talent just waiting to surface. “Tell Me” in particular has a quality about it that is altogether hard to pinpoint but one that everyone can understand. The chord progression is melodic in a way that’s almost reminiscent of a ballad-esque song and, coupled with the lyrical content and the intermingled vocals, it hints at a deep intensity just begging to emerge. It is songs like this that make me excitedly curious to hear future recordings.

Yet, what is so intriguing about The Lightweights is not merely their sound or their influences but also how closely the two, when linked together, can highlight possible future events. Early Blink-182 and Green Day fans will hear in “We Invented Awkward” the same sound they fell in love with when they heard “Cheshire Cat,” “Dude Ranch” and “Kerplunk.” The sound with which The Lightweights are now experimenting is one that is tried and true but for some reason or another seems to have been forgotten in the recent decade. Perhaps, though, that is what is the most exciting thing about hearing The Lightweights pick it up again: Hearing that raw snot-nosed sneer dusted off after all these years is something about which true pop-punk fans get excited.

What is the most electrifying thing about hearing a band whose most recent album sounds like “Cheshire Cat” or “Dude Ranch” is wondering and fantasizing about where such a band’s sound will go next. After Blink-182 put out “Cheshire Cat,” newly converted fans wondered where their sound would go next. Then came “Dude Ranch” and an evolutionary trend was established. Two years later, in 1999, Blink-182 followed “Dude Ranch” with “Enema of the State,” a pop-punk classic solidifying the genre and catapulting Blink-182 to super-stardom.

Now it seems like the same evolutionary trend is starting to establish itself for The Lightweights. Their sound as of yet is just rough enough to retain its garage-rock integrity but polished enough to warrant radio-play. Indeed, I myself am giving The Lightweights the radio-play they so clearly deserve on my own radio show. With the nitty-gritty guitar chords and multi-vocal dynamics that drew me to Blink-182, The Lightweights show too much promise to ignore. I can’t help but entertain the question of what their next album will sound like. If this one is like a “Cheshire Cat”/“Dude Ranch” combo, will the next one be their momentous “Enema of the State?” I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.