ELLEN MAY – A Lonely Way To Go EP

Towards the end of 2023, Australian duo Ellen May released ‘Dying To Live’, a two track download that introduced the world to their classic brand of pop punk. Hugely indebted to ‘Goodbye Astoria’ era Ataris and early Sum 41, the material often felt nostalgic, but there was something rather wonderful about their unfussy approach. They clearly understood there was still a market for straight pop punk without the unnecessarily heavy moments that have coloured the punky subgenre post-2012.

Their 2024 EP ‘A Lonely Way To Go’ pretty much follows suit and gives potential fans four more pop punk belters that have their roots very much in a late 90s sound. ‘How It Came To This’, in particular, latches onto a very 90s feel thanks to a flurry of overdriven guitars and vocal harmonies that accentuate the pop within the punk, and becomes even more retro thanks to a slightly bigger sounding breakdown at the track’s end that sounds like a definite nod to Sum 41. There’s a little more deviation here than before, since there’s also a speed driven riff that feels a little closer to skate punk, and everything is prefaced by a semi-distorted intro, but in the main it retains the duo’s melodic core, ensuring that fans of the previous release will love what they hear.

With an emo-ish melody underpinned by a great bass sound, ‘Misconstrued’ evokes classic period Ataris from the outset, and with an increased use of harmony vocals it’s a track where Ellen May explore some of their broadest melodies. A huge chorus brings out the very best in both performers, both vocally and musically when the track blends pop punk and emo moods seamlessly, but the bigger interest comes later, via an instrumental interlude that takes something of a musical dog leg. During this much quieter moment, a solid rhythm joins a much cleaner sounding guitar part, and its soaring melodies draw more influence from light alt-rock and emo than classic pop punk, showing how Ellen May aren’t afraid to draw from a bigger pool of influences this time around. …And for those who came for some straight up pop punk, a faster section powered by the drums plays squarely into some obvious genre tropes, sounding like a souped up Ataris and As The Sun Sleeps. Naturally, this brief burst of semi-aggressive, speed oriented riffing shows the duo at their tightest, and despite being one of the EP’s most full-on moments, it never detracts from the great melodies elsewhere.

The EP’s best track, ‘Back To The Start’ places chopping riffs over a driving rhythm, and when coupled with a clean melodic vocal, it’s impossible not to hear influences from early Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. As before, EM take their influences and recycle them with love, and of particular note here, is the way a hard ringing guitar is used to create an indelible musical hook over a really powerful drum part. This gives more of an emo edge to the band’s sound, but with a tight arrangement and assured vocal, it creates a really solid sound. Fans of the style won’t find anything new, but that really doesn’t matter when the material is handled in such a professional manner for a DIY recording. In a change of mood, the acoustic guitar takes centre stage for ‘Hawthorne’, showing how this duo are as adept when it comes to pop punk balladry. With an equally strong vocal employed throughout, this shows that Ellen May are equally comfortable when not hiding behind huge riffs, and even when the expected transition to full electric pop punk occurs during the number’s second half, there’s always a genuine focus on a great melody.

These four songs bring little in the way musical surprises, but what they lack in that department, they make up for with sheer feel-good value. In terms of pop punk with the odd emo/alternative detour, this EP places Ellen May alongside Fire Sale, The Livermores and J. Prozac in terms of an easy coolness. Predictable as bits of it are, this is definitely a short release that all fans of the style should seek out.

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February 2024