Personnel: David Combs (vocals, guitar); Jeff Rosenstock (vocals, keyboards); Ben Epstein , Sheena Ozella (vocals); Nick Popovici (drums).
After taking a break from releasing records for a long eight years, the Max Levine Ensemble come roaring back with their fifth album, Backlash, Baby, a thoughtful, energetic, noisy, fiery blast of pop-punk that shows some growth artistically and never pulls a single punch. Kicking off with the raucous title track, which has the kind of hook Green Day wishes they could come up with, then surging through songs that are alternately paint-peelingly fiery or loudly wistful, the album proves that the idea of merging pop smarts with punk fire is still valid when done the right way. Guitarist/vocalist David Combs knows his way around a catchy tune, and bassist Ben Epstein kicks in a few that are tipped even more to the pop side of the punk/pop equation. The trio, which also includes drummer Nick Popovici, powers through most every song as if the bandmembers are in a three-way race to the finish, careening from hook to hook in a fever. To keep things from spinning out of control, they occasionally bring it down a notch, successfully on the ska-influenced "Shadow of Death," less so on the overly Springsteen-ish "American." By the end of the record, it's easy to lump the MLE in with the best of the bands still working in their chosen field, Superchunk, for one. Even if one doesn't get thrills from slotting bands neatly into genres, or if pop-punk and its history mean nothing to you, the energy and smarts of Backlash, Baby might hook you, the singalong choruses might inspire, the power of the simple but true music might get your pulse racing. It's that kind of record from start to finish; it jumps out at you and demands, and deserves, attention. ~ Tim Sendra