There’s no getting around the bad vibes on PUP‘s sophomore album, The Dream Is Over. Even without so much as a single note being played, the title itself broadcasts a pretty devastating message: The dream is over. It’s that much more of a punch to the gut when you discover that these exact words were uttered to singer Stefan Babcock by his doctor, after he sought treatment for a vocal cord injury that left the band to cancel the last of their tour dates at the end of 2015. He’s lucky, or maybe just stubborn, that the proverbial dream didn’t actually come crashing down right in that moment. There was a real possibility this album wouldn’t have even happened.
The Dream Is Over as a phrase is a sneer at the idea that Babcock & Co. would be forced to abandon something for which they’ve committed so much of their time and energy, but the album itself is an acknowledgement of the toll that being in a touring band takes on its members. The first song is titled “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” and for how charmingly catchy it is, Babcock’s low-key opening is a pretty frank if perhaps exaggerated reflection of the kind of exhaustion that set in after the band attempted 250 shows in one year: “I hate your guts and it makes me ill seeing your face every morning.” Ouch. Yet just as much of the angst comes as a result of what happens when the tour ends. On “DVP” Babcock sounds frayed and unhinged as he yelps, “She says I need to grow up!” And on “Doubts,” loneliness finds him breaking down: “What’s left to lose? What am I supposed to do without you?”
PUP’s sound has both matured and intensified since the release of their 2014 self-titled album. Even then, the Toronto outfit approached the explosive hardcore of Fucked Up at times, but here there’s an even wider expanse between those bilious screams and their more nuanced moments. Two minute bruiser “Old Wounds” is PUP at their most aggressive, surging through a post-hardcore piledriver closer to Jehu than Joyce Manor. Yet just one track before that they craft a climactic anthem via restrained waltzing verses and a squealing, Pixies-like chorus. That’s not the first time the Pixies comparison is apt, either: “Familiar Patterns” follows a similar approach to meter and pacing as some of the most thrilling moments on Doolittle.
I probably don’t have to bother with the spoiler alert here. That this album has been released means that the dream is very much not over, even if PUP’s learned a few hard lessons in having to keep it on life support for a short time. In the aftermath, they’ve emerged with stronger songs and a new energy, proving neither exhaustion nor infighting nor medical emergencies can keep a good band down.