Bracket – Hold Your Applause

California pop-punk veterans Bracket are back with their long-awaited release entitled Hold Your Applause. In true DIY fashion, the band funded the new disc and other forthcoming projects by making available for digital download numerous releases.

I was very excited to put on my headphones and take a listen to what the Fat Wreck Chords alumni do what they do best. However, this excitement was quickly squashed within the first two minutes of listening. With sixteen tracks, this album is much too long and lacks the drive and enthusiasm a pop-punk record should instill in the listener. Most of this album is a quickly thrown together, under produced, and overall disappointing.

The album opener, “Not a Pear”, is a bizarre, slow track with very little soul, weak harmonies throughout, a mandolin, and a ukulele… Why the band decided to introduce ukuleles and mandolins to their lineup is beyond me.

Despite the disappointing first track, there are a few highlights. “Caving In”, “The Light” and “She’s My Eraser” are all great pop-punk songs, similar to those we’ve grown to know and love from these guys, but it’s all downhill from there. Dreary songs like “A Striking Disappearance” and “Mandy Lynn” beg the listener to give up on the album before getting to great upbeat tracks like “Gone” and “Habit”.

This album is the definition of quantity over quality. The production quality is very low throughout the album. There is no rhyme or reason to how the songs were selected, nor the order in which they are listed. The introduction of ukuleles and mandolins are more annoying than anything, and do not benefit the album at all.

Though there are many negative points, the album is not a complete waste. If you remove the long-winded dreary songs, the ukuleles, mandolins, and re-organize the track list, there is potential for a really good twenty-five minute album. The hype and potential of this album was clearly wasted. Having eight years to plan and write for an album, you would expect some musical growth, but Hold Your Applause is simply what you would come to expect from Bracket.

Don’t worry, Bracket. I am holding my applause.

Written by Christopher Siklosi

3 Comments

  1. This is the second bad review out of the three I’ve read so far. I have to say, my assessment of this record is entirely different from yours. I’m not blaming you or trying to put you right – my impression is that both you and the other reviewer whose piece I read came to this record with expectations that Bracket will certainly not fulfill (nor does it seem to me that that would be their intention). People who expect a pop-punk album that rocks out from 0:00 right through the end will be disappointed with this album, and maybe with most of Bracket’s discography in general; but they have plenty of other bands and records to turn to. And all’s fair in personal tastes and music.

    Personally, I am really glad, excited and proxy-proud of Bracket’s latest release. In my view, they’ve really outdone themselves. I have been following them since the time ‘Novelty Forever’ (their third) came out, but I heard their first two albums first before I realised they had meanwhile gone ahead and released a full-length on Fat. I loved their first two albums, but Novelty would forever set them apart from many bands in my personal music universe. I love their chord progressions, the not-so-usual singing style (compared to what people seem to expect from band they tag as ‘pop-punk’), the mix of humour and malaise in their lyrics.

    Novelty added a production that was out of line with the usual Fat Wreck sound, but which sat extremely well with the band. I discovered the ‘E is for everything on Fat’ compilation, and was lucky enough to get my hands on a promo-copy of the (unreleased until last year) seminal album ‘Like You Know’. LYK pales in comparison to their latest efforts, being an album with a broad palette of styles and influences that amazed me but were somehow left standing side by side.

    They went on to release two more albums on Fat. One regular studio album and an instalment in the label’s ‘Live in a dive’ series. With hindsight, I think this second album on Fat may be their weakest (still great, only weakest compared to their other post-Caroline stuff, in my strictly personal opinion). As an album, it’s a good one. In the Bracket universe, however, it feels like the sound of the record had been chosen to fit the roster of the label and the expectations of hardcore-Fat-fans who had come to expect a certain sound from the label. The songs themselves also seemed fat-wreck-ier than before (and after). In an interview with a French music magazine, Fat Mike said Bracket were one of his favourite bands, but also really hard to sell to the kids. He contributed songwriting on one song, and NoFx contributed a Bracket cover to a comp on Joey Cape’s record label.

    My guess at the time was that the Live album was another attempt by Fat Mike to get the band out there. To no avail, I guess, since it was Bracket’s last release on Fat. But this all speculation, I don’t know why they left or got dropped from Fat. The Live album, however, marked a high-point for me, as a fan, at that moment. The vocal harmonies came out prominently and I found myself thinking, damn, they really are great at that. I’m glad they went on to give more prominence to that skill when they recorded ‘Requiem’ and ‘Hold Your Applause’. I used to think Bad Religion were awesome at this, but Bracket, wow, that’s something else altogether.

    The band also started a side-project around that time, where they would play mandolin and uke in small bars. This left a mark on their sound, too, and Requiem thus featured not only more prominent vocal harmonies, but also more ukes and unplugged instrumentation (which was a return to earlier paths, after the purely plugged-in ‘When All Else Fails’). Requiem, to me, felt like the band was finally free, or free again, and claiming the room for themselves and what they wanted to do. It became my favourite Bracket record as I heard song after song for the first time.

    ‘Hold Your Applause’ picks up where ‘Requiem’ left off, but it’s a major step ahead. The unplugged instrumentation has been given more room, it’s been integrated into the songs alongside the plugged rocky stuff. Plus the vocal harmonies, which are even better than on Requiem, and have become a full-blown stylistic element in the Bracket sound. HYA feels like one solid piece, one flow. It’s not a “pop-punk” record, it’s music, plain and simple.

    I think people who have loved this band for years and followed their albums are likely to cream or wet (depending on their gender) their pants when they hear the album. It’s easily their best effort. To anyone else, it is probably going to meet the fate of every other Bracket release so far – they’ll somewhat like the distorted bits that can be recognised as a certain music genre associated with the band (pop punk), and then be utterly disappointed with everything else. Even though they might very well enjoy a band like ‘Uke Hunt’, which is ironic, really, or chuckle at the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s take on ‘Anarchy in the UK’ or enjoy the German-based punk cover project Punkulelics.

    In my personal music trajectory, punkrock (which to me started with skatepunk stuff in the 90ies) got me into lots of stuff that doesn’t fit a certain sound (like No Wave, early British post-punk stuff, crusty stuff, experimental punk bands like The Ex, Dog Faced Hermans, Fugazi,…), and Bracket did a great deal bringing me to discover stuff they seem to like privately, as far as I’m aware from interviews, like The Kinks, the Beatles, Beach Boys,… 60ies bands, either sunny or experimental. Those bands have always been ‘there’ in Bracket’s sound, at least from LYK/Novelty onwards, but they’ve come out fully on their latest releases, and it goes well with them. I can also see that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, fair enough. It saddens me, though, when people then go ahead and claim an album is shit or average, based on their taste rather than trying to take the band for what it is. A lot of pop-punk records bore me to death, but I recognise that they are well-crafted and that the bands are actually good bands, just not what I’m into.

    Anyway, I hope Bracket are going to meet some new ears with their latest album. Fan ears will certainly stick with them and soon find themselves craving to discover their next project. Hats off to the band for sticking around and rubbing them always to keep that bonfire going. It’s a good fire, and I’m happy to have them around. They haven’t had an easy history as a band, from the point of view of ‘making it’, but they are musicians and they can’t stop. Lucky us fans, then. That’s why I wrote that the record makes me proxy-proud. It’s a really splendid effort by a band that has the guts to be itself and the tenacity to keep going. I hope they are proud of the record, and proud of all they’ve achieved. Like you know, when all else fails, Bracket made it all go away. Thanks guys.

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