PUP live in Asbury Hall
It seems significant that there were bats in the mansion’s attic, although how significant it seems will have something to do with how you feel and what you know about PUP. None of it is a metaphor, and also all of it is.
The mansion, for its part, is very real it is a sprawling residence-slash-studio in Connecticut’s most dispiriting mid-sized city where the producer Peter Katis has helped acts like The National and Interpol and Frightened Rabbit and Kurt Vile make records. There are gold records on the walls and warrens of strange new rooms that the band members discovered seemingly daily; the roof leaks when it rains, and the bats reclaim the attic after dark. PUP singer Stefan Babcock recorded all his vocals in the living room, at night. “The other guys were just trying to live their lives,” he said, “and Nestor and I would be down there screaming into microphones while they were watching TV in the next room.” Babcock remembered Katis telling him that the bats “go away” during the daytime hours. “I was like, ‘no, they’re sleeping,'” Babcock said. “They don’t go anywhere, there’s nowhere for them to go.'”
The band spent five weeks there in the summer of 2021, recording and mixing the typically furious and anthemic songs that would become their fourth album, THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND. The band Babcock, bassist Nestor Chumak, drummer Zack Mykula, and guitarist Steve Sladkowski more or less never left.
PUP is objectively a very successful band. They won a Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year for 2019’s Morbid Stuff and have been nominated for the Polaris Prize and many nice things have been said about them in the places that people say nice things about bands; because they are PUP, “nice things” in this case means Pitchfork saying that they “turn self-loathing and self-deprecation into a sort of superpower.” Fans happily sing the coruscating words of their songs aloud in sold-out venues all around the world; they did a version of arguably the harshest song on 2019’s Morbid Stuff for a 2020 CBC Kids Christmas special in which they replaced the lyric “embrace the calamity” with “embrace the festivities”; they have performed on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and played at major festivals like Lollapalooza, Boston Calling, Shaky Knees, and Riot Fest.
THE UNRAVELING is not a departure from what got PUP here, really; for all the new breadth, this is still very much the fourth album by the band that has spun songs about The Bad Decisions Lifestyle into scrappy art. The hooks are as bright and barbed as always; the poison threaded through every song is no less potent. But a fourth album should be different from the first, or even the third, and THE UNRAVELING is. “I don’t know that we set out to do new stuff,” Mykula says, of a record on which the band does a great deal of new stuff. “It’s just a band trying to sound as much like themselves as possible. Every record you make, you get closer to that.”
THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND is that next step not towards perfection, or even towards some more perfect version of writing songs about fucking up, but just in the direction of its choice. It’s a product of this endless awful broader moment, but also very much a step forward into that uncertainty. “The whole album process really brought us closer together, even as things unraveled,” Babcock says. “It’s hands down my favorite PUP record, and I don’t think it could’ve been made under any other circumstances.” It’s the sound of a band learning how to share the mansion with the bats.