The Bouncing Souls Ghosts of the Boardwalk

[Chunksaah; 2010]

Styles: pop-punk
Others: Doc Marten, Murphy’s Law, The Waitresses

New Jersey, with its perpetual bombardment from cultural and environmental media outlets, has certainly received more than its share of love from the music industry. Sinatra, Springsteen, Waits, Bon Jovi, and Lifetime, to name a few, have each paid homage to the Garden State. Evoking images of cavernous, urban college towns (East Brunswick), bygone punk rock Meccas (Trenton’s City Gardens), and the omnipresent boardwalk, The Bouncing Souls should also earn a spot on that list. Starting out in the late 1980s, just across the river from a New York hardcore scene that had begun to revitalize itself, these native Jersey boys were close enough to draw on the scene’s energy and far enough away to add new wrinkles. While far less revolutionary than those early releases, this year’s Ghosts of the Boardwalk is a nostalgic journey through the life and times of this long-lived band.

Ghosts of the Boardwalk is the cherry-picked compilation — in CD form — of a 7-inch series of new music that the band released last year in celebration of their 20-year anniversary: a milestone that makes me feel old. Though I certainly wasn’t part of the loyal Brunswick posse that followed the band everywhere they went, I did catch The Bouncing Souls on otherwise testosterone-fueled hardcore bills at Middlesex County College and beyond. So compelling at the time was their brand of pogo and funk-tempered hardcore that it actually invited women into the pit. As time progressed, however, and hardcore went into virtual hibernation, the Souls streamlined their sound into a punkier, power-chord approach. They, among others, began to write and popularize a new subgenre: pop-punk. Their fan base spread to So-Cal. They signed to Epitaph. They joined the Warp Tour, and suddenly their sound became indistinguishable from many other bands therein. This tradition that has characterized the last 15 years of their discography now offers us Ghosts of the Boardwalk, a pleasant though predictable collection of songs that examines topics like being young, starting a band, standing in airport security lines, and being in a New Jersey state of mind.

“Gasoline” appropriately opens affairs by showing us exactly what’s in store for the duration of the album: anthemic, emo-leaning pop/punk played through a gritty enough filter so as to keep it out of America’s malls. In so doing, it exposes all of the devices that have made every band from Green Day to Alkaline Trio somewhat appealing: oozin’ “ah” harmonies, distorted power chords, bounding verses, a quiet bridge followed by an odiferous chorus. “Never Say Die/When You’re Young,” with its “dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee” assault, delves into the nostalgia that gushes from the thematic heart of the album. “When you’re young/ Write your songs/ Take your time/ Stay strong,” vocalist Greg Attonito gently sings. “Don’t grow old/ Hang onto your heart/ Stay close to your soul.” An air of romanticism coats the band’s recollections as they wander the Jersey coast against the setting sun in the title track. Temporarily breaking from the slick punk balladry are songs like the misguided buzzsaw of “Badass” and the memorable ska-infused, harmonica-laden ditty “The Mental Bits.” True to form, however, Ghosts of the Boardwalk ends with “Like the Sun,” another pleasant anthem that predictably urges the listener to “shine on.”

Ghosts of the Boardwalk enables the nostalgic to recall that the posi-core spirit that began within the hardcore scene (see the Better Youth Organization as an example) and that the Bouncing Souls perpetuated is, in some semblance, still alive. Recognized for inspiring peace and social consciousness among its young fans, its livelihood (however meager) is as welcome as ever in the contemporary musical landscape. Presenting these notions as they do, however — with such punky, status quo gloss — dilutes the impact of their message.

Links: The Bouncing Souls - Chunksaah

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