For those who grew up with the Get Up Kids as a key player in their adolescent angst, There Are Rules will come as quite a shock. These aren’t the spirited and playful Get Up Kids anymore; they’re the middle-aged and slightly pretentious Chill Out Men. Too old for pop punk and too cool to concede to straightforward dad rock, the Kansas quintet has traded in its three-chord progressions and shamelessly singable choruses about long distance relationships for more textured and often experimental arrangements whose subject matter tends to be as abstract as the songs themselves.

The Get Up Kids

There Are Rules
Quality Hill

Coming seven years after the band’s last full-length release, Rules has inevitably been tagged with the dubious label of being a “comeback album.” However, after listening to the heavily distorted voiceover introduction and disorderly guitar tones of opener “Tithe,” it’s clear the Get Up Kids no longer feel comfortable treading old musical ground. Instead, they forge ahead with warped, contorted instrumentation and cryptic messages, marking a strange departure from their contagiously accessible past material.

The subtle pulse and pitter-pattering of “Rally ‘Round The Fool” provides the best example of the band’s exploration of more innovative sounds and song structures. An ominous feel is established with a barely conscious bassline, followed by the howling high notes of a synthesizer and a decidedly unemotional vocal performance from lead singer Matt Pryor.

Known for his patented nasally yelping, Pryor’s distinct voice takes a backseat on Rules, as the focus moves from pointed melodies to general atmospheres. “Keith Case” continues this trend as the in-your-face production and unreasonably distorted bass calls to mind a soundscape similar to the hard and heavy Radiohead song “Bodysnatchers.”

This isn’t the only evidence that the Get Up Kids have been catching up on some of indie rock’s most highly regarded bands during their time off. Both “Regent’s Court” and “Rememorable” open with guitar lines ripped straight from the songbooks of The Strokes and Interpol. The two tracks push forward in a linear manner until brief choruses interrupt, only to fade in an unusually fleeting fashion. This desire to develop more substantial verses and bridges, with less emphasis on the hook, appears to be one of the album’s main goals.

Perhaps another objective of Rules is to mend old wounds. Guitarist Jim Suptic is given frontman duty on lead single “Automatic” and frantic rocker “Birmingham.” Despite fronting his own band, Blackpool Lights, Suptic was rarely more than a backup vocalist for the Get Up Kids. After their breakup, it’s likely his bandmates decided to give Suptic a chance to take center stage for the more well known of his two bands. His aggressive approach to singing is evident on both songs as he holds his own, even when the music doesn’t.

Suptic’s randomly injected tracks don’t do much for album cohesion, but much like the album as a whole, they show the band’s musical versatility. From critiques of technology addiction to random Tennyson shoutouts placed over anything from dub-step beats to industrial rock distortion, it seems like the Get Up Kids tried to do everything possible to break away from pop-punk conventions on There Are Rules. Though they’ve succeeded in leaving their old style behind them, some songs come across as too heavily influenced by recent musical trends and will leave some fans aching for the band’s former blissful sound.

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