The Descendents have never been concerned with working on any timeline but their own. The band’s lengthy periods of inactivity rival its time making records and touring, driven home by the fact that, though it’s existed for nearly four decades, it’s only released six studio albums. But 2016 has seen the band in the midst of its longest active streak, culminating in the release of Hypercaffiuam Spazzinate, the Descendents’ first record in 12 years, and most consistent in two decades.
Hypercaffium Spazzinate doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that presupposes that the Descendents are in need of a change. The band pioneered pop punk, and even dipped its toes in hardcore, making it a figurehead in two of punk’s most relevant genres. When the band was getting weird—as it did throughout the mid-’80s—its records could be frustratingly uneven. Those albums may have gifted the world with songs as perfect as “Get The Time” and “Coolidge,” but it also produced “Orgofart,” a song in which the band members literally farted into microphones and giggled for two minutes.
While Hypercaffium Spazzinate lacks the soaring highs of the Descendents’ earlier works, sticking to a tight punk formula keeps any unlistenable songs from seeping in either. The album feels like the proper successor to 1996’s Everything Sucks, as both share a similar structure: short, fast punk songs with instantly memorable hooks. While the band slowed down and embraced nuance in 2004’s Cool To Be You—creating an underrated gem in the process—Hypercaffium Spazzinate is all kinetic energy from its first note to its very last.
What keeps these hypercharged punk songs from feeling homogenous is that the Descendents have always been deceptively technical. While many of their contemporaries have been keen on bashing on two or three chords for an entire song, guitarist Stephen Egerton has always played punk songs as if they were prog epics. In “Without Love,” Egerton doesn’t sit still, grabbing notes out of thin air, gracing the song with the busy-yet-tuneful sound only the Descendents can muster.
Similarly, drummer Bill Stevenson—who penned many of the band’s classic songs—and bassist Karl Alvarez are as tight as ever. Stevenson has always had a knack for playing complex arrangements with a power that few drummers can muster, and Hypercaffium Spazzinate is no exception. On “Spineless And Scarlet Red” he shifts between half a dozen rhythms before the first chorus even hits. Meanwhile, Alvarez upholds the tradition of Descendents records being bass-heavy affairs. He plays songs like “Victim Of Me” and “Fighting Myself” as if he were writing lead guitar lines and not playing rock music’s most denigrated instrument.
Then, of course, there’s Milo Aukerman. The Descendents would be nothing without its iconic vocalist—as proven by the relative obscurity of All—and here the 53-year-old Aukerman sounds as crisp and punchy as ever, showing that the days of losing his voice at live shows may be behind him. While Aukerman’s musical compositions still vary wildly—from the jokey, self-referential “No Fat Burger” to the heartwarming “Smile”—he’s the crucial component that makes the Descendents shine.
At 16 tracks, Hypercaffium Spazzinate contains some filler, but with only three songs crossing the three-minute mark, these lesser moments breeze by without consequence. Aside from the herky-jerky “Limiter” and the relatively flat “Full Circle,” Hypercaffium Spazzinate rarely falters. Better yet, it captures the goofy, nerd-centric joy that permeates all the best Descendents albums. It’d be easy to posit a reunion record from a bunch of 50-year-old punk vets as a tired version of what once was, but Hypercaffium Spazzinate couldn’t be further from that trope. If anything, it proves there’s plenty of life left in the Descendents. May they never grow up.