The members of Toronto’s Pkew Pkew Pkew are, to quote Garth Brooks, much too young to feel this damn old. Yet, on their new album, Optimal Lifestyles, the theme of aging both with and without grace is pervasive. How old is too old to chug tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon with your best buds in an alleyway and awaken the next afternoon, regretting the previous night’s decisions? At what point is it time to take steps toward a more clear-headed, mature existence?
Optimal Lifestyles is fifteen tracks of polished, anthemic pop-punk, featuring crunchy guitar, heavy drums, and plenty of melancholy-tinged singalongs. Despite lyrics about growing up and growing old, there is a youthful energy to the collected songs that is undeniable, sounding often like a pop punk version of the Gaslight Anthem, reverb-drenched vocals and all. Other influences such as Jeff Rosenstock, PUP, and the Menzingers also pop their heads up in Pkew Pkew Pkew’s sonic makeup. Optimal Lifestyles could be the soundtrack to a debaucherous weekend spent at the FEST in Gainesville, Florida, when the hangover on the flight home proves itself just a little more treacherous than years previous.
High-energy opener “Still Hanging Out After All these Years” serves as the album’s mission statement, exploring friendship and the bonds formed through nights of hard partying. “Yeah, we’re the same dumb kids, maybe that makes us dumber,” singer Mike Warne ponders. “I Don’t Matter At All” sounds a bit like an over-caffeinated version of The Strokes, while “Point Break” features a scrappy vitality reminiscent of Jeff Rosenstock, complete with saxophone cameo. “65 Nickels” is another album high point, sounding something like the Dear Landlord song we never got.
“I don’t dream when I’m passed out,” is the hook of the song “Passed Out.” In the lyrical affinity toward festive alcoholic binges, there lingers a certain sense of fatigue—and a feeling that a lot of this material might have felt fresher a decade-plus ago when Dillinger Four and their ilk sang of it. But these days, pop-punk anthems about drinking beer and waxing nostalgic about late nights with best friends is beginning to feel as stale as a Sunday morning hangover. And therein lies one of the central questions, and issues, of Optimal Lifestyles—is blacking out in the name of a good time all there is to sing about?
While Pkew Pkew Pkew seem to be inching toward the revelation that, indeed, a lifestyle of enthusiastic inebriation isn’t all it’s cracked up to, they still seem fairly locked into and hyped up about said lifestyle. It leaves the feeling that we’ve been here, done that, and maybe the time has come to look toward something beyond.
“Nobody shakes hands anymore, it’s all hugging,” Warne sings in late album highlight “Adult Party.” This simultaneous acknowledgment of and resistance toward maturity lies at the heart of Optimal Lifestyles—a fence of which the band itself seem unsure on which side they land.