Review By Deepak Sathish
What is love? That is the question that Long Beach-based band half•alive sets out to answer on their sophomore album, Conditions of a Punk. Across a sprawling selection of 18 tracks, the trio of lead singer Josh Taylor, bassist J. Tyler Johnson, and drummer Brett Kramer, this topic is explored. Described by the band as “the first album where we allowed ourselves to write on the topic of love,” the lead-up to the album was a (very) long and winding road.
The first song off the record was released in March of 2021, over 18 months before the release of the album. The album ended up being preceded by an EP (Give Me Your Shoulders, Pt. 1, which itself spawned five singles) in February of 2022, and after announcing the cancellation of Give Me Your Shoulders, Pt. 2, the band released two additional singles in advance of the album.
Across the 18 songs, there are some notable standouts, but also the occasional meh track. The album opens with the title track “Conditions of a Punk.” The song feels very grounded, opening with a simple piano before giving way to a song driven by a stripped-back guitar and drums. Lyrically, the song feels like a narrator giving a prologue, with the references to the season of summer, which pop back up later.
The second song “Summerland” is very bright and sunny, seemingly destined to be used in a montage for a summer romcom. It’s a very ideal backing track for a nice road trip in the middle of July.
The third track “Brighton” begins with a loop of synth and drums that sounds like a rejected demo from Taylor Swift’s Midnights, before building off that and launching into a simple love song. The first couple choruses can feel bland, but the final one saves the track with a key change to keep it interesting, and an explosion of instrumentation around it.
Song four, “High Up,” starts off very slow with an intro of nothing but vocal harmonies and synth, before giving way to verses of acoustic guitar and drums, then giving into a chorus that feels triumphant. The song, however, just feels like another love song at points.
The fifth track “Hot Tea” feels like a return to the more electronic sounds of their debut EP 3, but updated. It’s a welcome changeup sonically after the first four, as a slower and more synthetic sound.
The sixth song “Did I Make You Up?” is a breakup song, and technically the lead single. It feels held back by verses that feel underwritten and repetitive. Despite this, the chorus pops enough to offset this as one of the catchiest ones on the record.
Track seven, “Nobody,” harkens back to the funk-tinged grooves and general moral of their 2018 breakout hit, “still feel.” Thematically, it also feels very similar to something off their debut album Now, Not Yet. It touches on subjects of feeling stuck in where you are, between places, and not feeling like anyone, which was touched on before in songs like “arrow.” However, it updates the theme, bridging the gap between the more funky sounds of their debut with the more synthpop-esque sounds on their latest effort. It also features one of my favorite bridges they’ve ever done, and a chorus that is immensely catchy.
The eighth tune, “Move Me,” is a very well done, sentimental love song. Lyrically, it is about a story of young love and learning to be vulnerable. Further, it contains another incredible bridge, the instrumental growing more intense as layers of vocals crash over you.
The next song, “Yosemite,” is the low point of the album. I have listened to this album multiple times front to back since it was released, but I cannot remember a single thing about this song. It’s ultimately very forgettable as a result, and feels like it meanders without ever really going anywhere.
However, things pick back up on the duet “Never Been Better,” featuring guest vocals from Orla Gartland. Gartland’s voice complements Josh Taylor’s, as the two tell the tale of two sides of a breakup, both trying to make it seem they are doing better than ever, despite both hurting. The new voice is welcome, to help add some variety.
The eleventh track “Back Around” is a bass-driven track drenched in funk. The song is made to dance away the struggles of day-to-day drivel.
Next, “Everything Machine” features a set of lyrics with a dark undercurrent and a very pronounced bassline, which feels like an iDKHOW b-side in a very good way. It’s a standout among the rest of the album for this exact reason, being a far darker track than any of the others. It features a bridge that feels like the narrator slowly losing it, each repetition of the lines more deranged.
“What’s Wrong,” the 13th track on the album and the first single released (all the way back on March 31, 2021) remains as enjoyable as ever. The song has a very simple message, that “the time is always right, to fix what’s wrong.” Like some of their other songs, it works to remind the listener that hope is never all lost, and that things can get better.
On “Call Back,” Josh Taylor sings of being insecure in a relationship, over a smooth and funky instrumental. The juxtaposition of the anxious lyrics and the very calm and rhythmic backing track creates a very interesting song.
Number 15, “I’ll Stop,” feels like the most straightforward pop cut on the album. Despite this, it is carried by an infectious chorus and lyricism that calls back to previous songs on the album.
“Make of It,” the 16th song on the album, is a song of halves. The verses are very serene, being well-written with subtle backing instrumentation. The prechorus further continues this, adding layers upon the base instrumental. However, the track gets dragged down by a chorus that feels confused. It’s too weak to be considered an EDM drop, but it doesn’t really feel like a pop chorus either.
The last two songs on the album feel unfinished. “Bad Thoughts” feels like a demo that was never truly given the time needed to complete it. It’s catchy, but that’s all it has going for it. It’s a very basic pop track, with interesting harmonies, but it ultimately feels like half a song.
“Lost,” the closing track, also suffers from feeling not done. It’s a very raw piano ballad, which does better suit the track. However, the song ends out of nowhere, and feels largely incomplete.
Conditions of a Punk is a very strong second full-length record by half•alive. Even if at times it can be a little inconsistent, and feels bogged down by filler at points, the highs of this record are more than worth it. It’s very hard to compare this to their debut, as they didn’t really set out to try and top it, rather to make something new. As this album proves, that was the right path to take.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Nobody,” “Summerland,” “Move Me,” “Never Been Better,” “Everything Machine,” “I’ll Stop”
MEH: “Yosemite,” “Bad Thoughts”
Album art from Amazon Music