Merit Maker – Attitude Is Everything – Album Review
Heckin’ rights it is. Attitude Is Everything Merit Maker, you’re completely right about that.
Especially in the realm of anything-Punk…without any attitude, ya may as well fold up your tent & just go home…it’s easily the most defining trait & characteristic of the genre for those that really get it. Talent will take ya plenty of places in this world, don’t get me wrong – but in the world of Punk music, if y’ain’t armed with attitude in some way, shape, or form…you’d be outright doomed to fail from day one and y’aint goin’ nowhere. So I suppose it’s a good thing our homies in Merit Maker have got tons of it – Attitude Is Everything!
“Second Glance” rips into place as it begins, and clearly signals that Merit Maker will not be messin’ around when it comes to the pace & fury they plan to surge through this record with. For all of a minute & forty-nine seconds, lead-singer/songwriter Joe Stanton leads his crew forward at blazing speed – and I’d be willing to bet more than most of ya out there will be surprised at just how much they’re able to pack into such a short timeframe – honestly, it’s impressive. “Second Glance” comes out swinging for the fence right off the drop, immediately grabbing your attention by the killer vibe from the guitars and the build of the drums roaring up to support’em as the song starts – and from there on, Merit Maker continues to give this minute & forty-nine everything they’ve got along the way through its surprising amount of twists & turns – and LISTEN to that monumental moment around the 1:15-ish mark will ya? Trust me – you won’t miss it – it’s the most intense singular spot in the entire song, and also reveals one of Joe’s biggest moments on the mic early on in the lineup. It’s fair to say there’s still a lot more to come that’ll exceed what they can accomplish here in under two minutes, but there’s no doubt that “Second Glance” possesses the riotous Punk energy, attitude, and gritty spirit that’ll keep the people listening on.
Mikey Horn is a genuine crusher back there on the throne…loved what he did throughout “Second Glance,” and his steady poundin’ leads the charge on into “Erase You” right afterwards. What can I say about this tune…let’s see…let’s see… You know – I might not need to say anything at all here – the court of public opinion is already passing judgment on this cut from Attitude Is Everything, revealing what’s nearly a 2:1 ratio in listeners compared to the majority of the record…and that should tell these guys something. I’ll tell ya what that tells me; either Merit Maker has spent a bit more time promoting this particular cut already, or they’ve got a legitimately single-worthy song here that the people recognize as such – and both of these things are cool in my books. It’s just as important for the band themselves to be able to recognize what works, what songs to push, and how to bring people into their record – having “Erase You” and it’s wildly accessible chorus hooks up front on the album was a solid decision to begin with, but it’s definitely also an excellent cut to put out there as a single to bring the listeners in as well. I mean, I have no problem admitting it – I’m pretty addicted to it myself. I think the chorus is freakin’ fantastic, I think the drums are spectacular, and “Erase You” has one of my favorite bridges in addition to some of my favorite guitars from Zack Seif on Attitude Is Everything…”Erase You” has the energy, it’s got the hooks, it’s got a solid combination of the old-school Ramones-esque roots of Punk with the fresh sound of a completely modern-day spin on the genre that works. Merit Maker is killin’ it on this track – I love that brief moment of instrumentation before the final hooks come back…they were stormin’ their way to victory long before that, but that last push into the ending was the audible cherry on top for me.
Where I can hear a bit of space for Merit Maker to continue to evolve and grow in what they do is in the vocal patterns of tracks like “Raging On.” Punk’s a tough-ass genre dear readers, dear friends…it moves at such a furious pace that it’s often seriously hard to do anything but somewhat mimic the pattern of the vocals along with what you hear in the music. I’m not saying that even has to be the goal – but I am saying when you’re listening to the verses of a cut like “Raging On,” you feel that close match between the two elements and notice their similarities, whereas finding your way as a singer to bring something entirely different than what’s happening in the music will lead to more diversity that’ll make an impact on multiple levels. That being said – it’s hard to argue with results when you hear’em, and to be absolutely fair to Merit Maker, like I said, it’s just my opinion – and it might not even be their goal. I can think of thousands of songs where the pairing between the vocals & music matches even more similarly than what you’ll find here, and just as many that have gone on to become enormous hits out there. The bottom line is, they play this cut with just as much confidence, energy, and cleverness as it plays on – it might take about a minute twenty-five (ish) to uncover what’s inarguably the song’s biggest hook for the first time, but getting there is well worth the time you’ll spend riding towards it, and you’ll hear it spark up again before it’s all over as well. What I do like about “Raging On” most is that each part of the song itself packs in that diversity we need, and that the transitions between verse, chorus, instrumentation, are as seamless as they could possibly be…make no mistake, Merit Maker is still crushin’ it hard, and there’s a solid argument to be made that they’ve packed in one of the record’s most memorable hooks.
“Nostalgic as hell” on “Rebellious Ways” – you’ll notice this punk band gets into the throwback vibes a bit more, brightening up the record to somewhere between a Sum 41 & amped-up melodic Blink 182 vibe, while still retaining enough of their own natural ferocity to keep their street cred. While I’d probably still recognize the main hooks in tracks like “Erase You” or “Raging On” to perhaps be just a degree or two more accessible when it comes to the masses – I’d also tell ya that the chorus hooks of “Rebellious Ways” are easily some of my own personal favorites on Attitude Is Everything. There are some moments of Punk that are genuinely crucial to get right – and a lot of that revolves around lyrics & themes & the energy they’re designed to inspire both in the band, and in us as listeners. “Rebellious Ways” makes no bones about going for a throwback sound and is brilliantly unapologetic about it, if not tossing the concept straight into our faces with savage Punk attitude – but it’s also got that massively uplifting spark that makes you wanna start throwin’ chairs & all that good stuff the genre amps you up to do when it’s done right…and in a song called “Rebellious Ways,” that’s an essential ingredient. Not that you’ll ever find Merit Maker making a dull tune to begin with, but it’s important to embody the spirit of powerful words in the music…if you’re gonna imply rebellion, then ya bloody well SOUND like it’s gonna take place, you dig? This DOES. Merit Maker makes sure of it through how they play this track and make the most of every moment from the tried, tested, and true of Punk’s past, proudly get “nostalgic as hell,” and in the process of lighting this mother right up, all we wanna do is ride along with’em. “There’s no going back – but here’s a throwback” – I hear what you’re up to over there Merit Maker – and quite honestly folks, knowing what their intentions would have been in writing & creating this song, you really gotta hand it to these guys for pulling off their ambitions here 100% in every conceivable way.
“Unfollow All” is actually a pretty damn insightful cut at its core – and one I’d recommend y’all pay attention to close when it comes to the lyricism. Merit Maker isn’t scared of putting their perspective out there, that much I can tell ya; sometimes you’ll notice it more than others, and I’d suspect “Unfollow All” is a likely candidate in that regard. Kind of rocking with an early Offspring vibe here when it comes right down to it…before they got too Pop later on…somewhere right around the time before that bubble burst on records like Smash that showed the hint of what was to come without going over the edge yet. They’re playing on a unified front without question, and that’s the main thing that matters – Merit Maker continues to prove just how capable they are when it comes to executing their dynamic brand of Punk. “Unfollow All” has all-out killer tones in the guitars…the drums never quit, the bass gets a solid moment in the spotlight as well – and ultimately, the vocals themselves, are awesome. I’m not a massive fan of the actual vocal pattern here & how closely it follows the movement of the music in the ways I mentioned earlier in regards to “Raging On,” but that’s not so much of a knock against Merit Maker as it is just one of those things that doesn’t always personally jive with me – millions of bands & artists do this daily. Joe gets in some standout moments on the bass, and his biggest moments in the chorus hooks land spectacularly strong…they’re making smart choices when it comes to how the vocals sound on this record, and a lot of that is also thanks in-part to the backing vocals of Tim Burke as well. I ain’t gonna lie, it’s probably impossible for us outsiders to know what might be Joe doing his own backup, or Tim, but the harmonic effect of adding that extra layer into moments like the chorus of “Unfollow All” work really well, and it’s all equally effective when it gets stripped back to the one layer in return, you feel me? It’s a large part of what makes the dynamics of “Unfollow All” connect overall. Plus, they really have clever moments in the instrumentation that continually flare up throughout this whole record…listen to the spot around the 2:40 mark and how that tiny difference added in by Zack’s guitar becomes everything you wanna hear for the next twenty or thirty seconds…Merit Maker is clearly thinkin’ about how these tracks move from start to finish and made sure to keep the material focused on delivering something well worth paying attention to, with every twist & turn offering something new.
Man! When Merit Maker wants to put their foot on the gas and kick some ass, they certainly have no problem throwing the switch straight into overdrive as unapologetically as it can get. Listen to the fiery wrath these dudes are serving up on “So Blinded” will ya? This track freakin’ scorches from the music to the microphone, makes time for the instrumentation, and cranks out savage intensity from the vocals. Talk about an extraordinary use of less than two-minutes – playing “So Blinded” could heat your burrito from frozen y’all, no joke! Tracks like this one right here are exactly why we’re all freakin’ stoked to get back out there and see LIVE SHOWS again in the near future to come…if you don’t think the pit in front of Merit Maker would rage out into the most chaotic scene known to mankind, then you’re missin’ it. “So Blinded” pretty much demands a circle be formed in front of the stage, and sacrifices be made from those shirtless mischief makers that have just been waiting for the green light to cause some mayhem & chaos. If you happen to find yourself at a Merit Maker show, and you hear the pound of “So Blinded” start up – and getting stomped on by the boots of a boatload of enthusiastic Punk fans ain’t your jam – it’s probably best you move on towards the back of the room, lest ye get that booting, several times. Attitude Is Everything folks – they told ya that from the start – “So Blinded” is exceptional proof of that.
“Here’s what it’s about…” – I think “Upward Climb” speaks really strongly on their behalf, all-around. You see, here’s the thing about attitude folks…it’s far too often confused with having to be angry & sad or some kind of chip-on-the-shoulder mixture of the two – but that’s not the ONLY way to express attitude, it just seems to somehow be the most common consensus. Merit Maker shows you on tracks like “Upward Climb” and at the core of so many of their tunes, that you can dig into the details of what’s gritty without going full bore down the rabbit hole of despair – you can have hope AND have attitude, you follow me? I’ll say this…hooks wise when it comes to the chorus, probably my least favorite on the record and they’re arguably still pretty memorable & played just as strong as anything else…but when it comes to the music of this band overall, I felt like “Upward Climb” brought out some of the very best of Merit Maker without question. You’ll notice it straight away…they’ve far from put the brakes on, but the song does move at a decidedly slower pace than most of this record by comparison – as a result, they get a bit more of an opportunity to display some of their chops in ways that we’ll all be able to catch on that first spin, as opposed to ripping through ninety seconds and having to repeat whatever it was we just heard to make sure that was indeed, whatever it was that we just heard – make sense? All I’m saying is there’s no doubt about Merit Maker’s ability to blaze full speed through the savage intensity of Punk at its most true to the style – they’ve proven that several times already – personally, I felt like it was a good move to have “Upward Climb” in the mix here to shake things up by dialing it all back a bit pace-wise. Really feels like we get to appreciate how they move together on a musical-level between the bass, drums, and guitars here…instrumentation-wise, “Upward Climb” has tons to offer ya.
These guys have put together a really strong & cohesive record, all said & done. You get to a track like “Social Unrest,” which might very well be right up at the top of many of your lists as one of the best you’ll find on this record, and you realize you’re at track eight out of ten & Merit Maker still has enough creative juice flowin’ through their music to power the electricity of your humble village. If “Upward Climb” put their versatility on display more through its pace, then “Social Unrest” is perhaps an even better example of that in regards to the flexibility in this track. Easily some of the strongest guitar hooks to be found here, in addition to one of the strongest verses you’ll find from Joe on the mic here as well – in fact, I’d probably argue there’s more hook & pull to be found there than you’ll find in the chorus of this particular tune. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, sometimes we simply out-write ourselves from moment to moment, sometimes it’s simply a matter of one part that can’t help but stand out for how good it really is – but if you were to ask me, you’ll find I’m not complainin’ at all…one piece of a song can quite often end up determining our level of attachment overall. I’ve got no beefs with the chorus, it works well enough – all I’m saying is that Merit Maker crushes the verses of “Social Unrest” and that the musicianship they share between them in the strengths of their instrumentation is how to go about making that real impact they wanna in all the right ways. “Social Unrest” is a deeper cut on many levels, from the lyricism to the sound itself…you feel the weight of this track and its more serious vibes for sure.
Speaking of how one moment can make an entire experience memorable – those harmonics from the guitar on “Escapist Habits” was a massive highlight to listen to and an essential piece of this tune. Of all the cuts on this record, this was the only one I felt like I ever really questioned at all overall in its inclusion, or at least its place within the lineup. Ultimately, I think that’s what it is…the placement, that is…after Merit Maker flexing a few new dimensions of their sound with how they played the two tracks beforehand, it’s almost a bit tougher to head back into what seems like terrain we’re previous conquered with them already on this album. I ain’t turning it off – don’t get it twisted – hell, I had multiple times touring through this record where I felt the complete opposite and fully welcomed back the energy that “Escapist Habits” restores on Attitude Is Everything…like I said, I was questioning it is all; that back & forth between how I was feeling about it on repeat spins is the only reason as to why that is. What’s really key here is that Merit Maker hasn’t let themselves down in any regard, nevermind how I feel…they haven’t let me down here either, but all that’s beside the point anyway – what I’m tellin’ ya is, they’ve put just as much into this cut with the confidence, conviction, and commitment that they’ve played this whole set-list with. Might not be my favorite of the bunch, but it’s still a kickass Alt-Punk cut.
Case in-point, when you hit the finale of Attitude Is Everything and you head into “Slipping Away,” you feel like you’re heading into another new experience with where the music is heading. I’m gonna advise Joe again on that whole matching with the music thing & to be cautious of that…he’s got the ability to add things through his vocals that could potentially make more of an impact…but I’ve said my piece on this earlier on already, so I’ll leave it at that more or less. Tone-wise, he’s right on the mark, and that’s pretty much what’s most important, the rest is all personal opinion and how each of us individually feel about songwriting & whatnot. Dig what he’s doin’ in the verses…chorus, meh, maybe not as much…but I do respect that Merit Maker is trying out different things and testing the waters to see where they can swim successfully, and that you can hear that creative stretch more here in this last cut. Heck, I mean…am I crazy? That’s even a synthesizer in the mix there, ain’t it? It could be some strange guitar effect I suppose, but I suspect they’ve even branched out the instrumentation a bit further here. While I’m not a massive fan of the scaling up of the vocal melody in the chorus, that final rip of the last line as it shifts downward in its progression the first time you hear the chorus, around the 1:50 mark, to me was probably the highlight moment of “Slipping Away” and almost surprising to find they only pulled this move the one time. Excellent combination of their instrumentation on display here though…all-around, that’s most likely the most standout element of Merit Maker’s finale…they’ve got a cut in “Slipping Away” that is noticeably diverse from the rest of the set, but reveals more of the depth & dimension to the sound of their band and the potential for what can happen in their music in the future.
Find more music by Merit Maker at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6RC6XEzVitr94AIbILXm8R