PUP trades artistry for angst on ‘This Place Sucks Ass’

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

Last year, Toronto band PUP released Morbid Stuff. An angry and energetic album, the LP flows with tight guitars and crashing drums, driven by lead singer Stefan Babcock’s melodic shouts and frustrated delivery. Last week, the band released This Place Sucks Ass, a new EP that seems to draw from the discards of the same playbook.

The aesthetic of Morbid Stuff is still here. This Place Sucks Ass cauterizes wounds of regret and loss with furious guitars in a manner practically identical to that of the band’s 2019 record. The musicality of PUP’s previous work, however, is drained from this new EP, as though attacked by a vampire of hate.

Where the negativity of Morbid Stuff feels introspective and flawed in a very human way, the driving emotion of This Place Sucks Ass is a pointless, “everything sucks” nihilism. It is rage directed inward, such as on “Rot,” a grinding self-flagellation. Its guitars resist melody whenever possible, and its vocals reject harmony in any form. The song, like many on the album, is markedly well-mixed, filling out the acoustic space it occupies with ease but offering little in the way of artistic intrigue or real self-reflection.

It’s the rally of a band that has run out of ideas, that has made a name for itself as loud and aggressive. PUP has hit a brick wall, and, instead of trying to figure out a way past it, it seems content continuing to bash its head against the stone to try and break through. Funnily enough, the band seems aware of this abject failure to invent or adapt new styles, but this only feeds into the same stale bitterness.

None of the songs are annoying. None are even really that bad, even if they do have their eye-rolling or grating moments. The problem This Place Sucks Ass has is that it’s not really an album in its own right. These songs should have been appended to a deluxe edition of Morbid Stuff, where their similarities to PUP’s last batch of songs would be commendable rather than conventional.

However, these six songs certainly would have been the worst on Morbid Stuff, so it’s not terribly surprising that they were put aside until the band needed to release something new. “Floodgates” is the closest This Place Sucks Ass comes to replicating the sentimental frustration of Morbid Stuff, but everything it does well is done better by another PUP song. There are no real standout tracks on This Place Sucks Ass, just an amalgam of old ideas and uninteresting wrath.

“Nothing Changes” least resembles the band’s earlier work. It still falls well within the sound the group has built for itself, but punchy drum breaks and a key change let the song adopt a sort of stadium rock vibe, similar to some of the cheap, swelling highs of pop punk bands of decades past.

Closing the album out on “Edmonton” instead of “Nothing Changes” is a bizarre choice. While decidedly basic, at least the latter feels like a real closer. “Edmonton,” on the other hand, is a short filler track that belongs as the least remarkable song on an otherwise palpable album. Instead, it is the least remarkable song on an uninteresting and pointlessly angry EP.

This pointless anger calls into question whether or not there is a point to anger in the first place. On previous releases, PUP’s argument seemed to be that, while rage comes with its own problems, it has a cleansing and cathartic nature to it, one that can be converted into positive mental energy with the right efforts. What This Place Sucks Ass does is provide a prime example of negative emotions that are negative simply for their own sake. The music of This Place Sucks Ass is not just sonically unimaginative, but also philosophically regressive and devoid of any real meaning. So it goes when a band forms an EP from the dregs of a better album.

Crew Bittner covers music. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @weakandrewwk.