In two years, Vans’ Warped Tour will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Young and old people alike will take to hot-paved parking lots to reminisce over an era where pop-punk was blissfully simple and bands as varied as Incubus to The Juliana Theory were able to meet at the intersection of branded consumption and vegan grandstanding. As the fest bell-curved with the height of pop-punk, Warped Tour experienced a slow descent at the soft hands of bands like Grizzly Bear and The National, and since nothing gold can stay, in its eighteenth year, Warped Tour is now nothing but a shell of its former preeminence.
But the poignancy in its turning twenty comes in the resilience of the youth spirit, a youth spirit that has left many without a scene—or grasping for a former one—in burgeoning adulthood. Too old to imbibe in Saves The Day’s new material, but not sophisticated enough to tolerate delicate French horn solos, mourning a summer staple like Warped Tour can be a rattling, uncertain type of loss in post-teen life. What is the natural progression from here? Like a mating call to our former selves, somewhere in the suburban distance, four guitars begin to simultaneously finger-tap on the 16th fret.
For those naïve (and turncoat) enough to believe pop-punk died with the downfall of Warped Tour, Diarrhea Planet will either save you from yourself or be the subject of misplaced scorn. As we’ve all attempted in some form to shed memories of our maladroit youths, it might seem regressive to edge backward in time through the eyes of an overblown, scatalogically-branded pop-punk six-piece. It might seem at the outset that a band named Diarrhea Planet, whose two full-length records are playfully titled I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams and Loose Jewels, is asking you to groan and turn up your nose in favor of the soft-padded latest Belle and Sebastian record. The inclination is reasonable, but you’d be wrong to dismiss them. Though Diarrhea Planet was birthed from the ashes of pop-punk’s dominant past, what they’ve accomplished on their sophomore record isn’t just linear or chronological—it is also reactionary and highly evolved, almost to the point of heightened self-awareness. I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams is the record that you wished the Warped Tour lineup of 2004 had the gall to make—it is bratty, monstrously fun, and yet surprisingly thoughtful. Diarrhea Planet has made a response record to the post-teenage years. I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams is an album for mid-20s uncertainty, and in that way, it is the Warped Tour of quarter-life. It asks through layers of devastatingly bombastic punk, “Are we having fun yet?”
The appeal of Diarrhea Planet might begin (or end, for some) with their name, but it continues with the sharp squeal of IRBYWD’s first track, “Lite Dream”, a song that shamelessly elevates crushing concurrent guitar shred to its campiest plain. “Lite Dream” is a smooth entry point into a record for those who want Diarrhea Planet to be the bro-down they’re expecting—an easy followup to Loose Jewels. It’s the band’s attempt at ceremoniously delivering what was asked for—nay, demanded—but with every track that follows, rare introspection is unearthed, all alongside snotty vocals and pounding guitars. On “Emmett’s Vision”, before the listener is even aware it’s happening, a blissful and deliberate singalong carves itself out from the lines, “What the hell am I doing with my life? And how the hell should I know if it’s right?” Mind you, howling hammer-ons and pull-offs never stop from blasting into the debilitating ether. The record’s best and most memorable tracks are the ones that hybridize playfulness with cognizance—on more than one song, the shreddiest riffs and most absurd Eddie Van Halen-in-quadruplicate moments are matched by the record’s sincerest lyrics. It’s no surprise that references to the word “dream” outnumber references to the word “head”; while both are given hefty due, Diarrhea Planet aims to move away from previous efforts as silly as “Ghost With a Boner” and see not just what gets thunk up in the skull, but what the self-conscious can willfully or unwillfully do with it.
I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams is the album for kids who spent their adolescence haunting 7-11 parking lots and house parties where their older brothers refused to acknowledge them. It’s suburban and grimy and best of all, it doesn’t try to be something it’s not—in light of their recent success, Diarrhea Planet have made no attempt to change their name, after all. The Nashville band’s sophomore output guilefully meshes Spinal Tap humor and expert guitar chops with elaborate, intelligent observations on youth, success, hope, self-faith, and what to do when you lack in all four. On “Kids”, the album’s most giving track, Jordan Smith shrieks, “Can we carry so much weight?” and it covers exactly the feeling of crashing head-on into an adulthood we weren’t yet ready for. It’s as if the lot of us had fallen asleep on the ride home from Warped Tour and woke up to our mid-20s plunged in the dissatisfied feeling this age disseminates. But with the help of four gnarly guitars bursting through the packaging in supported uniformity, the future doesn’t feel so scary after all. In fact, it feels bizarrely triumphant, like shedding the youthful bullshit to reveal that we’ve actually just hit the emotional lottery.