Here's another band and record I'm very late to the party with. I discovered them in December when CPRW combined with a bunch of other great blogs to create a playlist of the best songs of 2018. The band is Graduating Life and the album is Grad Life. Graduating Life is actually a gentleman by the name of Bart from Fresno, California. To make Grad Life, which came out in September 2018, he recruited a bunch of pals to play the instruments he can't as well as supply backing vocals. This is a true community effort that made me appreciate the album even more.
Grad Life begins with the song There's Only One Way. Starting with a stripped back first half of the song with just Bart singing and some acoustic guitar, this really pulls you into the song and he has you hooked on every word he sings. I also liked the gang vocals – there's something about gang vocals and acoustic music that works ever so well. It feels massive before the whole band really kick in. When the band do come in there's this amazing sound that would fill an arena and just helps the album explode into life. The song is about fighting with the voice inside your head that brings you down every day. What a fantastic way to start the album. Up next is Family Reunion, which is a track about looking at the patterns of death in your family and realising you're not immortal. It's a pretty heavy song, particularly in the outro as Bart sings "grandma you're dead and you always will be, sorry dad didn't respect you, you know it kills me". Musically it's played at a great pace and the way the vocals are delivered really encourage some great sing-along moments.
Carry A White Flag is one of the longer songs on Grad Life and shows just how good Graduating Life are at creating these massive sounding pop punk songs. The song also contains a great deal of emotion as Bart sings about surrendering to your mental health. There's one line in the song that really stood out to me – "that happiness was artificial and fake, don't you agree? If my happiness has to be forced then it wasn't meant to be." He's talking about being on antidepressants and coming off of them. This feelings ring really true to me from when I was on antidepressant drugs myself. The fourth track is named It's Second Year. On this song Graduating Life break out some different instruments including a piano and some horns. I love the fearlessness that the band show in their sound – they're not afraid to mix things up. The song goes through some highs and lows that really help create an huge feeling of emotion. The best example of this is during the bridge when things get really quiet and you're just mesmerised by the song and then it builds into this ginormous ending. The song Don't Have Kids brings us to the halfway point of the album. This is a powerful song. It starts off in such an angry fashion as he recalls life as a kid and how hard it was not have a stable family life. I'm discovering this album to be full of hard lyrics that are relatable. I'm not going to write out the final verse but go on Bandcamp and give it a read – and listen. It hit home hard.
The second half of Grad Life begins with Watch You Die!!!, so you know here's some more cheerful songs. Opening with the lines "the end of your life is nearing, we all saw it coming like angels in a clearing, but we never cared to make your last days worth your while" delivered in such a spite and venom filled manner that you immediately take notice of the song. It's one of the shorter songs on the album but it packs a lot in. It does this weird thing where it feels kind of stripped back but there's also so much going on. There's the traditional electric band along with plenty of synths and the song finishes with a majestic three-part harmony. Stinky Man is a track that is really self depreciating. Bart sings about being alone and feeling and wondering if he should end his life. Obviously with a subject matter such as this, it's a pretty emotional song with some highs and lows. After a methodical opening things soon jump into life with Bart really straining his voice on the more shouty vocals. There are times when things get really quiet with the lyric "I'm a sad little man" repeated over and over before building back up into an explosive final verse.
The eighth track, Victory Song, is a hip hop, emo, pop punk, electronic, horn fuelled, theatrical combination that when described like that sounds ridiculous but this song is just incredible. You've never heard a song like this in your life and you might not ever again. I can't emphasise enough how this just shouldn't work. It's a song with a positive message about helping someone to realise what a fantastic person they are no matter what small, close minded people might think. Seriously – this song. I can't think of the words to really express properly just what a wonderful piece of work this is so go listen. The penultimate track is named Your Town Is A Time Capsule. Here we have more of a straight forward (for Graduating Life) emo/pop punk song. It's about remembering the old days and thinking about how things change. The second verse was a real stand out on my first listen, there's this infectious energy than really carries you on through to the end of the song which includes a big trumpet filled ending that gave me so much joy. Finally we have the fittingly titled Finale (that's the name of the final song, brilliant!). The first half of the song definitely has an early My Chemical Romance influence to it – it's a fast paced but theatrical sounding song that really takes you on a ride. Lyrically Bart takes you through the traumas of his life and speaks candidly about how the things that have happened in his past affect his life now. This is a powerful way to finish the album.
Grad Life really blew me away. Lyrically it's pretty dark and brutally honest and I always have to commend anyone who writes this way. I loved how Graduating Life aren't afraid to do things differently musically and create this brilliantly unique style that gives so much energy and life to their songs. I really wish I had heard about this album a lot sooner, it's superb and you need to check it out.
Stream and download Grad Life here: https://graduatinglife.bandcamp.com/album/grad-life
Like Graduating Life here: https://www.facebook.com/graduatinglife/
This review was written by Colin Clark.