Morbid Stuff: The Evolution of PUP

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

If the descriptor “blistering” could only be applied to one modern-day band, PUP would be the one who deserved it the most. Stefan Babcock’s searing vocals, Nestor Chumak’s thudding bass, Zack Mykula’s pounding drums, and the head-spinning guitars from Steve Sladkowski and Stefan have been blasting through the music scene’s concept of punk rock and blowing listeners’ minds since day one, when their self-titled album was released upon the world on October 8th, 2013.

It’s natural to expect that a band that debuted so intensely would burn too brightly too quickly and fizzle out into a sophomore slump with their second album, but when The Dream is Over came out in 2016, they continued to drop jaws with an album that had not only advanced musically but also kept intact the raw, screaming intensity of the band that drew so many admirers in the first album. The second reason this album is a miracle of punk music is that vocalist Stefan Babcock was told by doctors that he would no longer be able to perform after a serious problem with his vocal cords was discovered. It would have been understandable if PUP had dialed it back or simply given up, but instead, fifty-four seconds into the opening track, If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will, Babcock puts to bed any concerns of the band toning it down, by slapping listeners in the face with music more complex, and vocals even more intense than before.

So when is that slump coming for PUP? If Morbid Stuff is any indication, it sure as hell isn’t coming anytime soon.

Babcock’s lyrics have always helped PUP stand out from other pop-infused punk bands by maintaining a snarky spirit while never devolving into whiny, empty anger. There’s real angst behind the words Babcock screams, but there’s nothing superficial about where he’s coming from. There is a genuine pain there, one that was specifically highlighted in The Dream is Over when faced with the existential crisis of giving up something you love due to conditions outside of your own control. Babcock continues to hone that anger against the world going on around him in Morbid Stuff, specifically highlighted in catchy, venom-laced anthems like See You At Your Funeral, Sibling Rivalry, and, Full Blown Meltdown.

The album isn’t just one big blast of anger for 37 straight minutes, though. The title track opener is catchy and anthemic but eases listeners in before jumping headfirst into the catchy earworms of Kids and Free at Last, both tracks perfect examples of PUP’s ability to balance fury and a toe-tapping, finger-drumming beat. The perfectly timed placement of Scorpion Hill, adds just the right amount of pathos to create a heartbreaking portrait of someone trying their best only to be hit with every obstacle life can throw at them while also doing their best to keep their loved ones close. The sentiment returns to close out the record with the soulful and melancholy song, City, an ode to the crushing suffocation of feeling trapped inside a metropolitan landscape, letting the album fade out with a metallic sound evoking the ever-churning gears of the cityscape.

PUP may have grown up since 2013, but they’ve hardly lost their edge. It’s simply sharpened. They’ve proved they can continue to create albums that are each better than the last in every aspect of their songcraft. So the question still remains, when will that slump catch up with them? Hopefully never. A band like PUP, who truly understands the art of being angry doesn’t come around that often. I’m predicting years from now, they’ll be decrepit old men and will still find reasons to shout and scream.

Writer, filmmaker, and comedy performer living in Winston-Salem NC. I write fantasy, horror, flash fiction, and film/television/music reviews.

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