ARTIST: THE BOUNCING SOULS

TITLE: VOLUME II

LABEL: PURE NOISE RECORDS

RATING: 9/10

WORDS: BECTON SIMPSON

New Jersey punks Bouncing Souls have been OGs of the scene for many years, with their catchy hooks and singalong choruses delighting their hardcore fanbase the world over since 1989. But whether you’re familiar with the Bouncing Souls’ music or not, there’s plenty to appreciate on ‘Volume 2’, an album of reimagined acoustic-esque songs of the band’s old classics. Approaching this album with fresh ears and with no previous awareness of the Souls’ back catalogue, you’d find a varied delight of warm, fun and infectious tracks which take the listener on a sonically cohesive journey from upbeat opener ‘Argyle’ through to the haunting finale of ‘Ghosts On The Boardwalk.’ If, however, you’re already a fan of the band, you’re in for even more of a treat given that the gift of hindsight and the ability to compare and contrast these reimaginings with the originals enables you to appreciate the record even more.

“There’s nothing about these songs that sound tired or old…”

First of all, if you’re expecting a record of just vocals and acoustic guitar, it’s not that. Indeed, it would be better off described as a ‘stripped-back’ album, than an ‘acoustic album’. There’s still drums, percussion, bass, and a few tinkles on keyboards and other various sounds. It’s just way more chilled out than your standard Souls record. Surprisingly it actually really works for them, allowing you to feel the space in the tracks, to notice the lyrical content a little more, to hear the changes, and to appreciate the song structure and the work that went into constructing these tracks you normally just bounce about in the pit to without really paying much attention. For long term fans of the band, it will give you a greater appreciation of their body of work, reminding you why you like them so much in the first place.

It’s something of a joy to be able to hear Greg Attonito’s vocal delivery in this more stripped back format too, where you can really notice the little nuances of his rich tones and actually hear the lyrical content. The Souls’ frontman, who can normally be found prancing about the stage and energetically warbling his way through upbeat pop-punk, is sounding more tender and talented than ever here, his vocal delivery at times both haunting and exciting. The opening verse of ‘Gone’ is a perfect example. This particular track is way more slower than the original, taking everything down a notch and allowing Greg’s vocals room to breathe.

Some tracks are more altered than others, with the biggest changes being noticed in things like ‘Simple Man’ which really is like a totally different song. Reflective and heartfelt, this one hits differently now, especially since you can actually understand the lyrics to the verses. Hearing the track performed as more of a ballad brings a new vibe to it, and a vulnerability that wasn’t there before making it, dare we say…better than the original? Similarly, ‘Highway Kings’, which was originally off the same album ‘Anchors Aweigh’, has been transformed from an upbeat fast punky number to a more jangly folk-punk type of deal with a deeper emphasis on the minor chords which were always a part of the song but previously less noticeable and more buried in the mix. Now, you can really hear and feel the atmosphere and mood of this track, making it more haunting and contemplative. Then there’s ‘Hopeless Romantic’ an absolute mainstay of the Souls set and fan favourite, which is now a modern, sleek little ditty with cool keyboard samples and slick electronic drums.  

“SOME OF THESE TRACKS HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR ALMOST THIRTY YEARS, BUT SEEM TO NEVER AGE.”

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With others, it’s more just a change of tone more than pace or energy, such as on ‘Late Bloomer’ which sounds very similar to the original, there’s just something about the vibe that’s different and hard to place one’s finger on. Perhaps it’s the acoustic guitars jangling out warmly. Perhaps it’s the exquisite production. Some of these tracks have literally been in the band’s set for thirty years, so to be able to breathe life into them in such a way and give them new energy and vitality is something quite special. The production of Will Yip certainly has something to do with it, striking the right balance in the studio between an acoustic album and a Bouncing Souls album. There’s nothing about these songs that sound tired or old, and they all sit together seamlessly flowing from one track to the next as if they were always made to be on this album together in this format in this order.

There’s one brand new track on the record too, appropriately entitled ‘World On Fire’ considering the state of the world at the moment and the fact that the sessions for ‘Volume 2’ turned out to be the final day of “freedom” before lockdown started. “What a time to be alive” Attonito sings in the chorus, which seems both ironic and true. At least we have some new Bouncing Souls content to get us through though and hopefully at some point they’ll be able to do a tour playing these particular versions of the songs live. Perhaps they might even consider a Volume 3 too. 

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