Weeks ago, I teared up while hearing Columbus poet Hanif Abdurraqib read an essay about a Columbus pop-punk band. That band was not The Sidekicks, but as I listen to The Sidekicks’ latest single, “Twin’s Twist,” I can’t help but recall the essay. I am stirred, settled memories of trauma, pain, joy, ecstaticism (the whole of life) lifting like silt in water. This is just to say that engaging with art – like engaging with life! – is messy and difficult. Despite pop punk’s genre-wide problems and violence, I am drawn to it; nothing unravels me quite like pop punk does, nothing forces me into emotion quite like pop punk does, and nothing, truly, makes me want to punch my fist in the air like pop punk does.
Columbus’ music scene is rich with this music and legacy, and The Sidekicks have the unusual position of being both tied to the building of that legacy, and continuing to benefit from and challenge it with contemporary releases. They’re a prolific band: initiated in 2005, the band relocated from Cleveland to Columbus in 2012, creating and sharing three full-length albums in the meantime. Now they’ve announced the release of Happiness Hours, and if their first single is any indication, the rest of the album will hold both the sour and the sweet – both the pull towards joy, and the frustration that comes after it. “The lemon rind can reek in the summer heat / but then seem so sweet later on,” sings Steve Ciolek, halfway through “Twin’s Twist.” At the end of the song, that image of a sweet and rotten rind is further complicated: “Good morning boring town,” Ciolek sings, “we’re putting on your crown / and singing you Happy Birthday / and force feeding you meringue.”
One lyric points towards the possibility of extricating sweetness from decay; the other implies violence inflicted by sugar, by happiness, by the possibilities of “crowns.” The sound, though it sticks to bouncy guitar riffs, seems to facilitate the challenges and emotionality in the lyrics. Before their third release, much was made of The Sidekicks’ drift towards pop, rather than punk. But why shy away from pop? The music’s buoyancy, its suggestion of dancing and movement, carves out a relationship with the listener one couldn’t get with punk’s abrasion.
Happiness Hours, produced by John Agnello, will be released on Epitaph records on May 18th. One day later, on May 19th, The Sidekicks will play a release show at Ace of Cups, supported by fellow locals Kizzy Hall. That night, I hope to open myself up to both bands, lifted by the growth in their music, as well as whatever it stirs within me. I’m looking forward to the rest of Happiness Hours; to continued engagement with music; and to the possibilities of pop punk in Columbus.