Photo Credit: Jordan Wolfbauer
California rockers Badflower (Josh Katz, Joey Morrow, Anthony Sonetti, Alex Espiritu) begin their sophomore album This Is How The World Ends with a surprisingly muted piece of indie-folk. On “Adolescent Love” Josh Katz mellow crooning, alongside lyrics that are as hyper-specific as they are impenetrable (“I stuffed socks into my sneakers // I was hoping she’d think that I was tall enough to reach her”) recalls Phoebe Bridgers debut Stranger In The Alps and Elliott Smith’s landmark Either/Or. Even if “Adolescent Love” never quite reaches the emotional heights of those works, there’s an affecting melancholy to the whole thing that’s undeniable. Most promising of all, the song promises a new sonic and lyrical direction from the band and sets the stage for a mature and considered sophomore effort.
Unfortunately, “Adolescent Love” ends up being an anomaly on This is How The World Ends; every other song here goes in a more traditional hard rock/emo direction, except for closer “My Funeral”, which despite the genuine heartache at its core, ultimately ends up sounding like a One-Republic B-side.
Still, the band manages to scale respectable heights while adhering to a well-trodden, if a little over-familiar, hard rock formula. “F*kboi” is a far more enjoyable song than its cloying, purposely misspelled title would suggest, while album highlight “Johnny Wants To Fight” follows a timeless punk tradition and does a good job balancing Gen-Z nihilism with chest-pumping bravado.
This Is How The World End’s best moments are it’s more introspective and reflective; “Family” spins a tale of self-destruction and being closed off (“I never say ‘I love you’ // Even though I want to”) that will no doubt resonate with countless of the band’s listeners. Conversely, the album’s woe is me, everyone-else-is-the-problem moments are easily some of its worst. “Stalker” makes for a deeply uncomfortable listen; with its proud admissions of being an “incel”, its condemnation of a woman as a “feminist b*tch” and its persistent, underlying sexual jealousy (“You stupid b*tch, I bet you never saw me coming // Am I supposed to be chill when Chad rails you”). It’s possible, I suppose, that this song is meant to be an ironic takedown of toxic masculinity, but if that is the case, the band does a thoroughly unconvincing job of portraying the song as such.
The follow-up to “Stalker”, “Everyone’s an Asshole”, goes some way to cleanse the wrongs of its predecessor. Despite the feeling that Katz and company aren’t including themselves as part of the group of everyone who is supposedly “assholes”, this condemnatory track includes one of the most razor-sharp political observations present on the LP (“If a president can present no evidence and still convince a mob to riot”) and contains one deceptively-simple, yet resonant line (“It started with a lockdown, now it’s a showdown”).
The best political commentary here though comes in the form of the penultimate “Machine Gun”, an eviscerating takedown of the military-industrial complex; of being enlisted at “only 17”, becoming disenfranchised fighting “someone else’s war?” and being left wondering “what if we’re the terrorists?” There’s a vividness in the story-telling here that’s missing elsewhere on the album. Its fitting, heart-breaking final line (“Cause once you leave a headstone // You never really make it home”) marks one of the few times the album fully justifies its fatalistic title and proves that despite what tracks like “Stalker” might have you believe, the band has the songwriting chops to one day make an album devoid of the tone-deaf moments that bring this one down.