Subtlety has never been PUP’s strong suit. On the Toronto punk band’s 2013 self-titled debut, vocalist Stefan Babcock blithely sings of wasting away bit by bit. On their 2016 follow-up “The Dream Is Over,” he waxes poetic about grating tour life making him want to gouge out his eyes with a power drill. So when the group released an album titled “Morbid Stuff” this month, they were tipping their hand just a bit. They may have even understated it.
Perhaps it’s better to let the lyrics speak for themselves. “Kids,” the album’s first single, quickly catapults into a breakneck pop punk groove, when a fed-up-sounding Babcock enters and sneers: “Just like the kids, I’ve been navigating my way through the mind-numbing reality of a godless existence, which at this point in my hollow and vapid life, has erased what little ambition I’ve got left.”
Who can’t relate?
The album is certainly a trip into the dark recesses of the mind, self-deprecating and laced with humor. It’s also catchy as hell. Even still, it’s a startlingly ambitious project given the cultural conversation around mental health and self-care, with the album encouraging listeners to embrace the darkness.
“What we’re hopefully achieving with people in talking about this in the way that we are — in being open about it — is that it allows other people … to find the help and the peace of mind that they can,” says guitarist Steve Sladkowski.
There’s a catharsis in screaming about having a full-blown meltdown at the top of your lungs. But the band is careful not to tread into self-indulgent territory, well-aware of the complicated history that art has with creatives who claim to traffic in suffering.
“We all are in agreement that the trope of the tortured artist is total [expletive], and has allowed people to get away with behavior that is reprehensible,” Sladkowski says.
He adds that the band found it important to find a musical balance, as well as a mental one. “As much as it is dealing with some pretty heavy stuff from a lyrical perspective, one of the things we really get a lot of joy from is finding that juxtaposition where the music can be very energetic and fun.”
It would be easy to listen to the album and come away with the idea that the group has lost all hope. But the foreboding theme belies the message that is implicit in the songs: that the morbid thoughts are OK, even human, and there’s a freedom that comes with not only acknowledging those flaws but learning to live with them. Sure, life can seem endlessly bleak, but sometimes you just have to throw your head back and laugh. It’s pretty funny.
PUP Friday 7:45 p.m. | Brooklyn Steel, 319 Frost St., Williamsburg. bowerypresents.com, sold out