Pastoral acoustic guitar strings are ready and willing to wash a bit of optimism over anything within earshot as we listen to the opening bars of “Restore,” the first song in BLUVNBU’s new EP The Awakening. Slowly but surely, an electric melody creeps out from behind the acoustic strumming and imparts a thunderous emotional power chord that will reappear later on in the song in a much more monstrous form. We’re on a wild ride under the direction of Matt Welsh in songs like this one and its tracklist neighbor “Responsible,” and in his care, we can rest assured in knowing that a true student of the classic pop-punk model has everything under control. The fretwork is surreal, the skins are crunchy and full of rich vitality, and in the center of it all, Welsh’s voice is the lighthouse in the midst of a grand storm.

“Good For Me” keeps the same upbeat swing of “Responsible” going at full-steam but adds in a dose of pop springiness that isn’t available to us in the first two tracks here. There’s a rebelliousness in Welsh’s style of attack that alludes heavily to his punk rock roots, but if you ask me, he’s far more a pop songwriter at this point than he’s ever been anything else. This is undisputedly a rock record filled with rock songs, electric bruisers and acoustic ballads (“Why”) alike, but if pressed to give it an aesthetical definition, I don’t think there’s any getting around The Awakening’s ultra-accessible hooks.

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Death Cab for Cutie was one of the most celebrated bands of my teenage life in the Pacific Northwest, and after listening to “Listen,” I think Matt Welsh can probably appreciate why. Much like Ben Gibbard, Welsh straddles the rhythm of the percussion in this track whilst using his words to frame the melody of the guitar parts (rather than the other way around). This not only maximizes the harmony’s presence in the master mix but makes it impossible for the audience to step away from the music feeling even slightly unaffected by the dual-assault they’ve just experienced. “One” isn’t quite as jarring by comparison, but let’s face it – most records have but one gilded crown jewel, and this EP has a whole set of memorable gems.

The Awakening comes to a conclusion with the grungy pop jam “Evolve,” which teases a more biting lyrical venom than any of the other songs on the record do (without falling apart in pessimism, I might add). I wasn’t sure what to expect when sitting down with this extended play for the first time just recently, but once I got into the grooves Welsh divvies out with ease in this tracklist, I knew I had fallen upon something really amazing this summer. BLUVNBU doesn’t try to fit into any sort of stylistic box in The Awakening; instead, its creator and master goes out of his way to produce a unique space in the pop lexicon for his music to exist. I’m ready for his next effort, and I doubt I’m the only one.

Michael Rand 

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