Hot Mulligan may not be the only band to call the Midwest home (Citizen, La Dispute, We Came as Romans), but the Lansing band is certainly making a name for themselves. Comprised of members Chris Freeman, Tades Sanville, Brandon Blakeley and Garrett Willig, Hot Mulligan has been appealing to emo/pop-punk sensibilities since 2014. The band made waves with their 2016 EP Opportunities, earning them a re-release via No Sleep Records. Since then, the band has toured with the likes Save Face and grown a Twitter following of over 5k. Currently, the band is on a massive US tour with Knuckle Puck, Free Throw and Jetty Bones. With their debut full-length record Pilot, Hot Mulligan sets a precedent of what the future of the emo/pop-punk scene could and should be. It’s a future that is exciting and all too necessary in the current climate.
You don’t have to look far to realize that misogyny plagues the pop-punk scene, from general exclusion to sexual assault. Every other track produced by the scene seems to be about the lead singer’s ex who we’re told is a whore because she wouldn’t enable his Holden Caulfield ramblings. Cue the world’s smallest violin.
Hot Mulligan stands apart from their contemporaries in this respect. Instead of focusing on the damages inflicted by others, they focus on the damage we do to ourselves in the aftermath of a break-up. Their words look to the future, striving for self-improvement rather than dwelling on the past. It’s the kind of message you need to hear when you’re in the midst of a 2 a.m. post-breakup meltdown and think to yourself, “If I cut my own bangs, everything will be turn around.” News flash: it won’t, and you’ll look like Lloyd Christmas.
The simultaneous whimsy and sincerity of their lyrics–and hilariously bizarre titles–keeps Hot Mulligan from fading into the noise of pop-punk hopefuls. Pilot opens with “Deluxe Capacitator”, a track that was featured acoustically on the remastered release of Opportunities. The song shows off the band’s knack for songwriting with lyrics like “I love you, you know / I could never compose my thoughts or a song / So I guess I’ll get stoned by myself / As if I have anyone else to run to / And every day I contemplate this life I made / But I still long for better days.”
“All You Wanted by Michelle Branch” comes next and maintains the energy established in “Deluxe Capacitator”. Expect constant foot-tapping and head-bobbing while listening. The track may not live up to godly genius of Michelle Branch and “All You Wanted” (but what could we expect of mere mortals?), but it will definitely “make your playlist”.
Pilot keeps the pace with “I Hate the Gooey Disk” and “The Soundtrack to a Missing Slam Dunk” before slowing down with “Pluto Was Never Really a Planet Either Even”. “Pluto” starts slow but steadily builds to an emotional climax. The climax feels oddly fitting for a generation who first felt true heartbreak when Pluto lost its planet status. The song also features some of the record’s best lines: “It’s my final critique of my bones / Of my skin / Of the hate killing me / I’m cold on skin contact / Blue as a newborn’s lips / ‘Cause on the day I was born / I was horrified to take / A breath.” The intentional pause before “a breath” proves once again that the band knows what they’re doing when it comes to song composition.
In an interview with Brad LaPlante, guitarist/vocalist Chris Freeman shared that the majority of the album was written in a short amount of time (“like two days”) before heading out on tour with Save Face last August. What Hot Mulligan accomplished in that short amount of time goes to show that you can’t fake talent. Even more impressive, the band wrote the standout track of the record, “How Do You Know It’s Not Armadillo Shells?”, in-studio. In a different key than the rest of the album, “Armadillo Shells” is destined to be a fan-favorite. It’s catchy as hell and features upbeat synth reminiscent of Motion City Soundtrack. Ironically, the song also features the line “I’m always disappointed in the things I write”, which is funny considering the record is all around a testament to the band’s songwriting chops.
Pilot feels effortless, from the give-and-take between vocalists to the harmonious pairing of guitar and synth. Yet the number of bands who have flown in and then swiftly out of the scene in recent years proves that such an accomplishment takes an inordinate amount of skill. The only qualm I have with the record is that I now have to tell people that my favorite songs have phrases like “Armadillo Shells” and “Gooey Disk” in the titles. In the end, the blank stares of confusion I’ll get in response are a small price to pay.
So what’s next for Hot Mulligan? Well, the band has a year full of touring ahead. After their run with Knuckle Puck and Free Throw, they’ll hit the road with Boston Manor. 2018 is looking to be their busiest year yet. I also suspect that the future of pop-punk lies in their hands. No pressure, of course.
“Pluto Was Never Really a Planet Either Even”
“How Do You Know It’s Not Armadillo Shells?”
Four Year Strong
Motion City Soundtrack
Taking Back Sunday
Pick up the album here.