One of the most enduring qualities of punk rock music (short, fast, loud) is at times also its most restricting. Be it by design or by the constraints of public perception, punk music has and always will be focused on being direct, without the textures and layers you find in pop music and the less organic sounds of what is on the radio. But don’t tell Ten Foot Pole that, especially after the release of their genre-busting, expectations crushing Escalating Quickly, their first studio album since 2004.
The long running California punk band made a name for themselves amongst the wave of 90s melodicore whose music circumnavigated the globe. There were many reasons why their output from that time- Rev (1994), the terrific Unleashed (1997), and Insider (1999)- caught the ears of many. Ten Foot Pole, with or without original vocalist Scott Radinsky, were one of the bands that proved you could still be fast, loud, sometimes short, but could still hold a note and write music that didn’t sound like it was recorded and produced inside a trash can. After the departure of Radinsky, guitarist Dennis Jagard stepped up to the mic and the band remained steadfast with their ability to sing well and play melodic music- it is one of the few things that have remained unchanged for the band, because their new album is a bold, adventurous statement that few bands have successfully undertaken before.
Escalating Quickly is absolutely out of left field- a punk album with its foundation in 90s melodic skate punk, but one that throws away all notions that an album of the genre (especially by a band form that era), must sound or be written in a certain way. Credit is due to noted producer Ryan Greene, who is working with the band for the first time since Insider. Jagard has said the catalyst for this new sound is Greene’s influence and Jagard’s desire to do something different. What we get here is new layers, textures, and sounds that you just wouldn’t hear on an album cut from that Epitaph/Fat Wreck mold. There now walls of sound and harmonies, and not just the Bad Religion type harmonies, but the Spector Sound kind- where the music becomes sonically dense. From the opening cut “Everything Dies” to the repeated, textured vocals of “Don’t Be a Dick” (something about the repeated, but layered refrain of “dick dick dick dick” that makes this great), there are just so many new sounds to take in. “Numb” is part skate punk, but also part space pop-punkopera (it’s a thing, I promise)- and it’s quite glorious, especially when the synthesizer packed chorus hits. It’s fun, it’s a little silly, but also proof that skate punk can be adventurous.
What Ryan Greene has brought along with his myriad of studio tools is a cast of additional musicians that make up the kaleidoscope of sounds. Dan Palmer (of Death by Stereo), Dan Jacobs (Atreyu), Lil Joe Raposo (Lagwagon, RKL) and Sean Sellers (Good Riddance) add sometimes small touches to the songs (some extra percussion work, some extra bass noodling, lots and lots of harmonies on top). But as a completed album, they are the added layers that make this outing an eventful one. Sometimes the sounds are more straight forward, like “Long Night”, a song that could have come off Unleashed. But when the stadium-filling guitar solos hit, you know it’s something new to the Ten Foot Pole catalogue. Similarly, “Forever Road” sounds like early Ten Foot Pole, but only until skate punk urgency is given glossy rock overtures that once again there’s new musical spaces to explore.
That is essentially the crux of Escalating Quickly. Ten Foot Pole have done everything a skate punk band could ever do; their accomplishments are noted and their back catalogue will remain a vital part of the genre. The one thing they haven’t done until now was write an out of this world record. Jagard has said that he wanted to write “the Bohemian Rhapsody of 90’s punk”, and as you traverse the multitude of layers, sounds, and textures of Escalating Quickly, you come away realizing that yes, Ten Foot Pole spent a night at the opera and they (along with Ryan Greene), have come as close to achieving it as possible. It may not please the old punks and traditionalists, punk diving into territory often deemed musical hedonism, but I am an old punk and I had a blast listening to this record. We will probably never see Descendents co-write an album with Queen, but if they ever did, just know that Ten Foot Pole beat them to the punch.