Cartel – “Cycles”

The biggest surprise about Cartel’s third album, Cycles, is how little the turmoil surrounding their conflicted sophomore album has carried over to this markedly more self-assured effort. “Let me reintroduce myself as a man with a cause,” Will Pugh shouts as the opening track “Let’s Go,” backed by a thundering chorus of percussion and guitars, hits like a freight train. Rarely has a truer line been spoken in a pop-punk album, but Cartel more than just reintroduces themselves with this album. They’re on a mission to show that the band in a bubble is no longer on the bubble; they’re here to rock.

Cycles is a concise record, with 11 songs and around 35 minutes of straightforward pop rock speaking volumes for what this band has to offer fans of the genre. Pugh’s always been a songwriter with an ear for hooks, but on this effort he pulls together the best of what worked on their first two efforts, consolidating the good into what we hear here while reducing and removing the chaff.

More important, the band sounds like they’re enjoying themselves, something which was very much lacking on their self-titled post-bubble release.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who, after seeing their MTV experiences and then watching the album disappear from the charts, wondered if Cartel would even be around for a third album. Well, they’ve returned in full force, and it’s clear they want to move themselves forward musically while finding ways to make the music fun for them and for fans. If you can’t stand melodic power-pop this album won’t change your mind, but hook-filled melodies abound here for anyone who hungers for fun, energetic music in this vein. Radio programmers, start salivating.

This isn’t a perfect album. Like many such efforts in the genre, the singles are far and beyond the best material on the album; album tracks themselves tend to blend into each other on repeat listens. But there’s no real filler here. As a complete album it plays remarkably well, relying more on strong melody and song construction than on cheap radio gimmicks. That works very much to the band’s advantage.

The band’s already had its fifteen minutes of raw fame, and now that they’ve managed to dump the label behind the MTV/Dr. Pepper-fueled debacle which eventually led to their sophomore album being abandoned upon arrival, they’re ready to prove they deserve to be heard for the quality of their music. That’s where Cartel has always stood heads above their fellow travelers. Cycles suggests that Pugh and company intend to be around for more than quick introductions. And while their third album essentially brings together the best material from their first two, it stands out among current radio power-pop, implying that, now that the band’s been given a fresh chance to shine, they may be ready to assert themselves as a real band to watch in the coming years.

Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.

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