The name Relient K has always been synonymous with some of the most contagious power pop/punk rock, tongue in cheek songwriting and feel good fun anyone could ever ask for. But since the band’s infancy, there has also been an upward evolution that includes tighter musicianship, increased songwriting smarts and a high-octane stage show regarded by fans at sold out shows from coast to coast. Just trace the progression from the band’s tracksuit wearing days on 2000’s self-titled release to the plethora of puns on their breakthrough sophomore release The Anatomy of the Tongue and Cheek to the Billboard Top 200 album charting Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do (#38 street week debut) and it’s evident that Relient K thrive on raising the bar with each release.
Their latest offering MMHMM is no exception demonstrating yet another building block upon the group’s reliable recipe. “There’s been a natural progression from the first onto the second, third and now the fourth record,” notes drummer Dave Douglas. “The change has come incrementally with each disc. I don’t feel like we’re taking a drastic number of turns, but the direction keeps shifting for the better.”
The reunion with longtime producer Mark Townsend comes at a time when lines are being blurred between the post hardcore, post punk and peak emo movements, making Relient K’s original output level especially attention grabbing. Such sounds are amplified all the more courtesy of mixers Tom Lord-Alge (U2, The Rolling Stones, Oasis) on “The One I’m Waiting For,” “High of 75,” and “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend,” and J.R. McNeely (UnderOath, Project 86, Demon Hunter ) on the rest of the tracks. “I feel like with this record when we’re rocking heavy, we’re rocking heavier than we ever have and when we’re letting up with low key moments, it’s more mellow then we’ve done in the past. We’re hitting our peaks correctly and all the angles are really paying off,” says Thiessen.
As for the messages behind such sparse pre-production sessions, Thiessen turned to the basic root of his personality, a combination of satire and seriousness that runs the gamut between relationships, geography, faith and the weather. “It’s my personality to be cheesy and tell dumb jokes,” he admits. “For the last four of five years, I’ve taken all the puns I think of on a daily basis and plant them in a song. Besides that tone, this record also has personal ties. There’s a lot about making mistakes, failing, how amazing grace is and picking yourself back up.”
“Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” launches with a reflective piano arrangement that builds up with intensity to address life’s moments when everything seems to be failing, while reminding all that God provides second chances. The potent “This Week, The Trend” speaks of breaking through daily routine and living each day to its adventurous fullest, the spunky “Maintain Consciousness” is a colorful commentary on society’s need to be constantly stimulated by technology and the blasting “Apathetic” calls all to tone down their obsession over possessions.
There are also plenty of power chords that fall on the lighter side of the topical fence, from the brooding vibe of “Life After Death and Taxes” to the hysterically framed “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend” to the thermometer based teasing of the band’s home state (Ohio) on “High of 75.” “I So Hate Consequences” seems to build a bridge between the two writing styles, comically addressing all the times we make mistakes and try to run from them, but also coming to the realization that repentance and forgiveness are necessary components in the healing process.
“We’re not trying to hide anything with the songs on this record, just to get what we feel out there,” Thiessen summarizes. “We’ve also found it to be the hardest thing in the world to say ‘Jesus’ in a song and not be cheesy, so we definitely have our own way of singing about spirituality. But in the end that’s who we are and what we believe in. We hope between that and the music, it connects with someone out there.”