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Why Branding Burns Out Creativity

by Erik van Rheenen

Four Year Strong sprung a corker of a surprise on the pop-punk community by announcing both the flawlessly follicled Worcester outfit’s deal with Pure Noise Records and return to the recorded music fray with the Go Down in History EP — with a marathon stint on the Vans Warped Tour to match. Fans heralded the summer of 2014 as a kind of redux version of 2009. The “Easycore Revival” banner was unfurled. The band was back to chugging out hardcore-tinged pop-punk, the tracklist boasting the same kind of silly movie-referencing song titles that were part of Rise Or Die Trying and Enemy of the World’s none-too-serious charm. Listeners rediagnosed their malaise for 2011’s In Some Way, Shape, or Form and its grungy, alternative rock leanings as three year’s worth of selective amnesia. It’s like the album AbsolutePunk reviewer and occasional PropertyOfZack contributor Thomas Nassiff called (albeit fairly), “ a beast of a heavy, radio-y rock group” buoyed by a veering, Rise Against-ish turn towards the alternative charts and an “’okay’ overall performance” never happened. Easycore is back, baby!
 If Nassiff, an incredibly savvy writer with his finger pretty firmly on the pulse of the vein of pop-punk popularity, thought In Some Way, Shape, or Form was the first step towards Four Year Strong’s ascension to radio airplay and kicking down the door of being an amphitheater playing, name-brand rock band, well, why the hell isn’t Go Down in History the same kind of mature alt rock as its forerunner? I’ll take the blame and freely admit I spurned ISWSOF as the moody older brother to RODT and EOTW, an album that stands in the corner with its arms crossed, biting the inside of its cheeks as its two more famous, playful younger brothers run amok and get into all kinds of juvenile antics. I missed the rabble-rousing sing-alongs and breakdowns and lyrics that just felt right finger pointing to. Whether I was pointing them at Alan Day and Dan O’Connor in concert, or at the ceiling of my car didn’t matter. Those records were fun, and ISWSOF was dour, straight-faced, and serious.

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