If you head to My Friday Anthem’s Facebook page, you’ll see an image reminiscent of the old MTV logo, reconfigured to represent the band. The visual takes you right back to a time when music videos not only mattered, but they drove the musical corner of the zeitgeist harder than any other promotional tool. You didn’t listen to radio to hear new music — you watched television to stay hip.
Right at the epicenter of that phenomenon was Nirvana, whose video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” shifted pop culture more than anything else in rock music over the last 30 years. It was aggressive and dark and dirty and ambiguous. It took no prisoners all while gladly spitting in your face. In fact, that track was so affecting, when the band decided to hop on MTV’s “Unplugged,” it’s hard not to forget how impressive it was to hear a band synonymous with being unbelievably pugnacious sound so … collected. So versatile. So calmed down.
This is all to say that the irony isn’t lost, then, when you see My Friday Anthem’s logo, and you consider their latest EP, “The Bliss Is Never Ending.” Much like the early ‘90s grunge years, this collection is muddy. Brooding. Unapologetic. The guitars are distorted and turned up beyond 11 while the vocals unleash constant anger and self-loathing, harkening back to a time when such tricks were still Very Serious and not attached to kids with pink hair, sitting at the mall, waiting for the next My Chemical Romance record to hit Hot Topic.
Where the irony truly lies, however, is the similarity in result both Nirvana and My Friday Anthem receive after deciding to turn down. It’s easy to remember where you were when you first heard the paired down version of “Come As You Are” because of how striking it was — not just due to the contrast, but also because of the vulnerability. The same move works on “The Bliss Is Never Ending,” most notably on the title track, perhaps the best moment here.
Singer Ryan Knight is left with himself and an acoustic guitar and the result is gloriously tortured. Evolving from a whisper to a sing/shout, he has the perfect off-key voice for this blend of alt rock. Settling it down actually serves him better because his agony can shine. He’s not asking you to believe him; he’s demanding you hear him. And he’s leaving you no other options.
The problem is that he only goes to this approach once. The closest he comes to channeling his chill again is “In The Driveway,” which leans on the refrain, “I can’t find the words to say.” Repeated over lush layers of harmonies and a sad electric guitar, the song is both haunting and infectious. Easy to sing along to, it toes the line between where My Friday Anthem should be and where they end up going.
So, where do they end up going? Well, they turn down Punk Rock Road and pull up at 392 Stay In Your Lane. OK, so maybe that’s a bit harsh, but songs like “Happy” and “Half-Love Song” pale in comparison to something like the title track, if only because of how cliched the formula feels. Of course these guys are going to have a couple barreling, up-tempo rock songs. Of course there’s going to be slight shifts in dynamics. Of course the vocals will find the sweet spot between apathy and anger. It just seems like low-hanging fruit when you know these guys are capable of providing something so much better.
Such is why “Dreamer” falls right next to “Driveway” in the category leaning toward success. Beginning with a steady acoustic guitar, the song opens up into a level of pop gold that’s rich enough, Coldplay might blush. The thing is, Knight’s voice is suited for this kind of stuff in the same way Kurt Cobain’s voice worked just as well toned down as it did amped up. So, while this might be a run-of-the-mill pop tune to some, it’s also the most glaring example of the potential that My Friday Anthem possesses.
Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s also proof positive that the band’s most valuable weapon is Knight and his knack for sincerity in song. Each time his voice cracks, a little more pain seeps through the speakers. Each time his rage overflows, he earns just a little more sympathy for his frustration. There’s an intangible thing that Ryan Knight brings each time he steps to the mic, and in short, it’s nothing less than invaluable.
Besides: It’s also the thing that, in the case of My Friday Anthem, at least, makes a certain kind of bliss seem impossible to ever end.
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **