Blending together the folksy and the fiery can be cartoonish if not executed properly. On paper, adding a ukulele to a pop-punk band’s arsenal seems like a eyebrow-raising proposition, calling to mind the hair-teasing days of MySpace’s stronghold over alternative music rather than today’s heart-rending version of the same genre. Luckily for The Sonder Bombs, the uke enhances the band’s self-assured humor and balance, creating a dynamic, nuanced counterpoint to frontwoman Willow Hawks’ acrobatic vocals and shimmering guitars. On MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR, the band’s proper debut for Take This to Heart Records, Hawks assures her listener base that the ukulele isn’t the product of a cutesy bygone era, it’s a weapon in a battle to be taken seriously in a male-dominated scene.
The Sonder Bombs began as a duo in 2016, with Hawks and her writing partner Jimmy Wilkens trading off abrasive and melodic punches against a DIY universe which places gender politics at the bottom of a list of priorities. After enlisting drummer Eric Heald and bassist Kevin Cappy in order to enhance their messages’ sonic weight, the quartet quickly recorded MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR with Steve Perrino and Madeline Finn to accomplish a tone that complements Hawks’ soulful tones and her most biting criticism. Opener “Atom” underscores this duality—vocal control soars to aggressive highs, with her melody splitting apart to shout and howl against a selfish convenience friend. Lead single “Title” features the LP’s most acerbic thesis statement, with the arrangement bending behind Hawks’ proclamation: "I don't want to be your merch girl / I wanna be your goddamn idol / And I don't wanna have to work twice as hard / For the same motherfucking title.”
For these Midwestern upstarts, self-confidence starts when it crosses paths with self-analysis. After a brisk eight tracks burning bridges and rebuilding inner strength (including the sub-minute “Shoot 2 Kill,” which plays out like a winking revenge fantasy), the adventure ends with “Twinkle Lights,” Hawks’ open letter to her former selves, with stopovers at fourteen and nineteen. This is where she charts her bumpy ride to understanding herself and her artistic pursuit, but The Sonder Bombs’ first proper outing already barrels full speed ahead, defining a new era of socially conscious, unapologetic pop punk.
MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR is out now on CD/Digital via Take This To Heart Records