[El Rey; 2013]

At their hearts, punk songs are often just pop songs performed with a free spirit and finger to surrounding crowd. Washington’s Sunwolf have the middle finger part down before they’ve even played a note (see the above cover to their Angel Eyes EP), and thankfully they bring all the free spirit into their songs in their performance and disposition. On the surface Sunwolf songs aren’t about anything too serious, and tend to verge on the gripes (or joys) of a relationship. “I can’t remember when we first met/I guess it means I was all you could get,” lead singer Rob Tifford snarls on “Fire Breathing Tiger.” He doesn’t sound too bothered either way.

Specific lyrical content aside for a moment, a Sunwolf song is mostly about having a good time and capturing a communal if not fraternity-like spirit. Leader of these empowering singalong tracks is first single and opening track “Push It,” which captures everything you could ever really want from a punk/pop song: easy lyrics you can shout along to; carefree attitude running through its veins; a guitar solo that raises the bar further; danceable strut. Wait, danceable? Okay to be honest, “Push It” doesn’t hold onto the punk part of it roots as it drops them to be something much more likeable to a mass audience in the same way a 1990s’ song might swagger along, not indebting itself to any particular genre. In Sunwolf’s case, it’s worth it; “Push It” is insanely likeable, catchy, and replayable for the moments of your life you want a soundtrack to help accentuate the good feelings of. It’s only failing is that it sets the bar too high for the other five track here. They made good attempts at matching it, if not trying to reach the same place via a different route, but never quite hit that peak.

Still, Angel Eyes is enjoyable, never really falling into an unlikable moment. The brevity helps: nothing is more than three and half minutes long, and the majority of the tracks here cut a minute off that time. “Fire Breathing Tiger” could easily do another lap or two once it reaches its final moments, but instead cuts hastily to “Dr Misery” which tries injecting a little more fury into the mix to reach that aforementioned high point. Dissecting any of the tracks with any great details is probably the worst thing you could do as a lot of them simply get by with energy and a charming punkish demeanour. Comparing and contrasting also shines light on the fact that these tracks are inherently similar in ways that doesn’t sound too original on paper: they’ll reach for a raucous chorus, throw in a guitar solo or an acapella break, and otherwise get by with a feverish bout of guitar playing. Again, the brevity is helpful in that it darts you from one camera angle to the next before you can get bored, but when you consider it on any kind deep level, you realise that everything is aimed at the same focal point.

Tifford occasionally eludes to something a little darker, like the abusive relationship-insinuating “Dr Misery,” but his couplets elsewhere can drag him down more quickly than the length of one of the song’s guitar solos. “If I was you/ And you were me/ Together now/ What could we be?” goes the repeated sentiment of “If I Was You.” There’s not much hiding there, if anything at all, but musically it’s perfectly likeable, if not somewhat innocuous. But even “Push It” boasts lyrics that don’t scream any depth, yet they still stand taller than everything else here because they’re matched to the most likeable melodies and capturing of carefree nonchalance. Once “Push It” finishes, a small party of noises erupts, and it sounds like a genuine moment of joy captured in the studio. When the same thing happens at the end of “Head Down,” it seems to act like a reminder, trying to re-emphasize that Angel Eyes was created with high spirits. I’m sure it was – the music acts as a testament to that – but it’d be better if they could just capture that in the music instead of having to giving it context.

A word I’ve used a lot here is “likeable” – which hasn’t been deliberate for the most part. It’s hard to give “Push It” anything less than two thumbs up, but as a whole, breaking out the superlatives for Angel Eyes seems too much. At the same time, though, you’d probably be accused of being needlessly morose or lacking the right kind of disposition if you didn’t jump about or at least bop your head to the tracks here. There’s a good time to be had here, but at the same time, there’s probably a better time being had somewhere else.