A band’s first full-length album is an important moment. Yes, many bands release EPs or individual singles before the album comes out, but an LP is a different beast. UK pop-punk band Milestones first burst onto the worldwide scene with their 2016 Fearless Records EP Equal Measures, a five-song effort that offered a taste of what the band might be. Equal Measures had the hallmarks of a pop-punk band’s first label EP: songs that were earnest, excited and well-produced, but mostly left you wanting more. Unfortunately, their debut album Red Lights fails to meet the mark.
The world is absolutely full of pop-punk bands, and for the most part, this is a good thing. Pop-punk music captures honest feelings of youth and hones in on growing pains we all experience with songs you can sing along and rock out to. Those well-familiar with the genre will tell you there is plenty of variation within – from angry to sad, from hardcore-influenced to alternative-leaning – and plenty of bands out there exploring every corner of the scene. First albums are a place for a band to figure out who they are, but on Red Lights, Milestones fall flat on their search for identity. Having a clear line of sight is important, and the problem lies in the fact that Milestones don’t know who they want to be.
Perhaps due to this lack of focus combined with a desire to live up to their influences, many moments on Red Lights feel entirely cliché and played out. “Against The World” is a vaguely empowering track – the type designed to get people waving lighters (or, more likely, cell phone flashlights) in the air, arms wrapped around each other, and likely prefaced at shows by a moderately empowering speech about how “you can do anything you set your mind to” – but it holds no weight. “End Game” is a thin attempt at a love song, and album closer “Forever and Never” attempts to poke fun at the idea of clichés while only sounding cliché itself.
On “Paranoid,” vocalist Matthew John Clarke sings of “a monster in my head” that’s driving him out of his mind, and three tracks later on “Liar” he decides that anyone who calls him “crazy” is the one at fault for his behavior – but both songs offer nothing but confusion to the listener. “This Is My Life” does a somewhat better job at conveying emotion and a “take charge” attitude, with the declaration in the bridge that “You made an enemy”; while it’s still not clear exactly what the band are going for, there’s enough going on that, if you don’t dig too deep, you might find yourself feeling something, or at least having fun.
Sometimes, Milestones appear to directly emulate other artists. On “Counting Cars,” it works: they come across like a band that wants to sound like Mayday Parade (perhaps appropriate, considering they supported Mayday on a full-US trek last spring, and drummer Jake Bundrick co-wrote on the album), and while Clarke will never be Derek Sanders, there’s a tangible attempt at sincerity. However, the worst track of the album has to be “Eighteen”: “Her lipstick’s all that she’s got / so you can count on her going down” might’ve sounded original or edgy if Cute Is What We Aim For had written it in 2006, but in 2018 it reads as uninventive and reeks of slut-shaming.
Red Lights is not an unpleasant listen, but it’s entirely unremarkable: the songs would go over just fine played on the speakers at Journey’s or Hot Topic, but chances are no one would be walking out the door having bought a copy of the album. After a full listen, you may find bits and pieces of songs stuck in your head, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember which song is which, as there’s not much to grab on to. At no point on the album do Milestones seem entirely sure of what they want to sound like, and without much conviction, the end result is hardly convincing.
Milestones will be touring the UK later this month in support of Red Lights. Head to their website for a full list of tour dates.