Always clashing with the typical punk aesthetics of delinquent, negligent teens, Descendents’ music has never been about sex, drugs, alcohol, or even passionate political stances. They’re the punks of the punk scene itself, making active and rash statements against those of that lifestyle since their debut album, Milo Goes to College, dropping “I’m Not A Punk” almost forty years ago now. Instead, they own themselves, wailing about “Suburban Homes” and “Marriage” in one-to-two minute songs, void of much nuance or meaningful regret. And it’s these dorky, middle-class images that have defined the band since conception, and even granted them claims they helped truly start the original pop-punk sound.
Given the band’s incredibly unique themes and inventive minimalism, Descendents had a lot of directions they could take their sound, but just like their unflinching pride in their nerdiness, the group offers little sonic change across any of their eight records. Their newest, 9th & Walnut, blazes through eighteen songs in just twenty-five minutes, sounding like a half-hour of throwaway choruses for most other rock groups. However, in true Descendents fashion, the group’s energetic presentation and steady melodies prove there is still some strength in their unconventional songwriting process.
Though it’s full of repetitive song structures and quick, hard-to-develop melodies, 9th & Walnut‘s main strengths are still easy to spot. The long tracklist never gets dull, with explosive entrances coming every two minutes maximum, to revamp any potential energy the album has lost. The shouted “I just yellow” gets cut-off instantly before the two-note bass line of “Crepe Suzette” gets going seconds later, and the pattern continues. For this release, the Descendents’ pantry is fully stocked with intimidating guitars and almost abrasive drum rolls, ready to stop and start on command. The sheer bombardment of aggressive content transforms this from a standard album experience to a borderline jam session, refusing to slow down at any point.
Surprisingly creative moments also pop up as well, with the powerful and punchy “Mohicans.” Surrounded with the infectious echoes of “Last of the Mohicans,” a stray guitar solo finds its way onto the project, and is clearly the star of the show. Whether it’s a genius break in pattern—or just a really sick solo—the mere twenty second period of lustful guitar playing elevates the track to the highest point of the record.
Joining “Mohicans” atop the list of crafty instrumentals is “Nightage,” a gritty representation of hardcore punk. Across a symphony of shrill guitars, the group explains “She’s playing with my heart,” and “I’m depressed, she don’t know why.” Sounding perhaps more traditionally punk than many are used to, the group returns expectations of the band back to reality, shrugging off their unfortunate situation with a happy-go-lucky “But that’s the way it goes / Yeah.” With “Nightage,” the group accomplishes a new—but manageable—identity, while still returning to their own in a cute way. Others, like “Grudge,” attempt this as well, with similar grimy, scream-filled vocal performances from Milo, but none quite pull off the thematic balance as well.
The unfortunate reality to forty-plus years of unchanged sound, is your album’s pitfalls will all be the same, and that’s certainly the case with 9th & Walnut: too much of the same. For Descendents fans, this should be all they need—another spurt of fun, sixty-second periods of crisp guitars and brash singing—but anyone outside of that established bubble could ask for a lot more. If you’re looking for an entrance into the discography of the Descendents, there’s no reason to pick 9th & Walnut over their well-renowned debut, or even lesser-regarded projects like 1996’s hidden gem Everything Sucks. Instead, it’s a half-hour of average Descendents content.
At this point, Descendents have decided to live or die by their image, or it seems that’s the case. For established fans, 9th & Walnut is a great refresher of the Descendents’ legendary sound, but it’s not much more than that. And for everyone else, hit rewind and go visit Milo in college.