Towson's All Time Low climbs the charts

City Paper

The Baltimore area’s music scene is, for all its underground legends and critical darlings, light on unit-shifting Billboard chart fixtures. But local music’s biggest sales triumph in recent memory went by with little notice: Baltimore County-based pop-punk band All Time Low’s sixth album “Future Hearts” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 on April 10. Not since Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song’-powered 1999 album “Enter The Dragon” has an artist from around these parts placed that high on the chart. A couple of weeks after the release of “Future Hearts,” All Time Low’s best-known single, 2008’s ‘Dear Maria, Count Me In,’ completed a very slow journey to a million units sold and was certified platinum.

All Time Low’s members named themselves after a New Found Glory lyric more than a decade ago, when they were just four Towson high schoolers learning Blink-182 covers. And after releasing an album through Baltimore-based label Emerald Moon Records, they quickly rose up through the ranks of punk and emo bands with swoopy hairstyles. But unless you regularly attend the Warped Tour (which they’ve played several years, twice as a headliner), or subscribe to Alternative Press (whose readers voted them “Band of the Year” in 2008), it’s likely that you haven’t heard of All Time Low, who never quite hit that My Chemical Romance level of crossover success. ‘Dear Maria,’ a saucy ode to a stripper, briefly made them one of the last new artists to breakthrough on MTV’s long-running countdown show “TRL” before it went off the air in 2008. They released one album on a major label, “Dirty Work” for Interscope, way back in 2011, before continuing to grow their fanbase with indie powerhouse Hopeless Records.

Perhaps the reason All Time Low keeps getting bigger, with or without radio airplay or industry support, is that singer and primary songwriter Alex Gaskarth has never shied away from writing anthems. “Future Hearts” opens with the arena-rock bombast of ‘Satellite,’ a band whose members haven’t even reached 30 yet pining nostalgically for a time when “we were just kids.” Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann, an industry vet who’s discovered countless major label punk bands while also giving a rock edge to pop artists like Hilary Duff, produces the album with his typical mix of live-band energy and studio gloss.

There’s no token screamo track to foreground the band’s hardcore influences, but the acoustic track ‘Missing You’ even sounds like it could cash in on the Mumford & Sons folk-rock revival. The band has toyed with its sound before—“Nothing Personal” featured a song produced by R&B star The-Dream—but “Future Hearts” is mostly concerned with the kind of modest experimentation that only serves to make the band sound more traditional. Still, the band never sounds better than when drummer Rian Dawson propels it through a punky number like ‘Runaways.’

“Future Hearts” features two cameos that self-consciously place All Time Low in the lineage of its heroes. ‘Tidal Waves’ features Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, and ‘Bail Me Out’ was co-written with guest Joel Madden of Good Charlotte, the Waldorf band that remains Maryland’s biggest contribution to the pop-punk canon. Elsewhere on “Future Hearts,” All Time Low continues making the kind of songs that would get played on the radio, if rock radio still played new pop punk. The lead single, ‘Something’s Gotta Give,’ swings for the fences with its jangly, midtempo riff, although it’s minor details like the piano countermelody in the second verse that make the song memorable. There’s no more “TRL,” or any other video show on MTV, to aim for airplay on, but it goes for broke with the song’s video, which stars Gaskarth as a goofy fast food mascot dressed up as a container of french fries, before the story takes a horror-movie twist.

All Time Low makes the kind of punk pop with shamelessly catchy choruses and an underdog sneer that was perfected in Southern California in the ’90s but is now made just about everywhere (Australia’s 5 Seconds Of Summer are currently the form’s most visible practitioners). In fact, outside of the hometown pride in their 2012 single ‘For Baltimore,’ All Time Low generally sounds like it could’ve come from anywhere. If there’s any downside to the brutally efficient hooks of “Future Hearts,” it’s the lingering sense that six albums in, these guys still haven’t differentiated themselves from their peers in any significant way.

Still, All Time Low’s success in 2015 is remarkable simply for how long it’s sustained it. “Future Hearts” is the band’s fourth top-10 album, which means it’s held onto a sizable fanbase far longer than most pop-punk bands do after the mainstream moves on. Fall Out Boy and Paramore, two bands that captured the Warped Tour zeitgeist a couple of years before All Time Low, have enjoyed chart-topping comebacks in the last couple years, but they’re just about the only pop-punk bands left operating at that level. But while All Time Low may never reach household name status, it’s built up the kind of loyal cult that most Blink-182 cover bands can only dream of. 

All Time Low headlines Pier Six Pavilion on Sunday, May 24.

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