Hangnail (1999) – Untapped Pop-punk Potential?

When heading into thrift stores, antique stores, or anything of the like, one of my first and favorite things to do is glance at the old CDs and cassettes, to see if they have anything good, or maybe hilariously bad. Throughout the years, I’ve garnered both sides of the spectrum; from things as meme-worthy as horrid Disney star albums, to Radiohead and Vampire Weekend. One of these more interesting and entertaining records is Hangnail’s self-titled album, Hangnail. After listening to it a few times, and going out of my way to research them, I found that Hangnail was a Christian pop-punk band out of Wisconsin, formed in the late 90’s, and continuing through the early 2000’s. This being their first release, was released under a pretty small Christian record company: BEC Recordings; who is known for certain acts like rapper, KJ-52.

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One of Christian rapper, KJ-52’s, albums.

I listened to this album and gathered all of this information, originally, about 4 years ago, but I’ve learned that hitting shuffle on your Apple Music library of about 16,000 songs can bring you back to a weird place; which is exactly what it did. I was never a huge fan of the band, and would only occasionally put it in the CD-player of my car that at that time had no auxiliary cord. But revisiting it now, my thoughts on it were incredibly confusing. Largely, I was ashamed for ever thinking I should listen to the band, but at the same time, there were several things they did in their music that kept me hooked and intrigued to what they were putting out. It was as if I was shown a band that had amazing potential, and simply threw it off of a cliff.

I wanted to investigate this deeper, to further explore what I enjoyed about the band, how they messed all of it up, and explain how a group of talented musicians can make mistakes, or personal decisions to muddle all of it. While this article claims to talk about Hangnail as a whole, I’ll mostly be doing a pseudo-review of the release, as I don’t really want to go over the rest of their discography. I have skimmed it, and can say, to me, it doesn’t get much better.

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All the members of band, Hangnail.

Before I start preparing the coffin, let’s talk about what’s good about the album. Firstly, almost every track starts off with a bang. The opening riffs to most of the pieces on this record are catchy, attention-grabbing, and technically impressive. “I’m Only Human” immediately jumps into the car, and takes off with the song, almost leaving you behind, and songs like “Something More,” and “Don’t Forget About Today” start off with a very solid, melodic guitar solo to draw you in.

This continues into a lot of the track as well. There are several riffs places in here that dig their way into your brain, and never get out. One that I consistently think about is found about 2 minutes into “Something More.” The distant-but-demanding, descending and ascending guitar parts are super clean, and push their way through everything else that’s going on, even if they aren’t the loudest. Throughout this record, the delivery of the guitar melodies is mostly what sucks you in.

Although I would say they’re pretty cookie-cutter in terms of that era of pop-punk, they do attempt to think outside of the box at times. During that exact riff mentioned a moment ago, another appears in your left ear, much deeper, and distorted. The riff itself isn’t amazing, necessarily, but how it interacts with the other one, makes it sounds almost like noise-rock for a split second. Another nice entrance of creativity is found in the backup vocals of “Helpless On My Own.” They sound like they’re coming out of a drive-thru speaker-box, reminding me almost of the vocals from one of my favorite noise-rock bands, Lightning. They mess around with tempo a lot in tracks like “Double Standard,” giving an intro almost entirely split-off from the rest of the song, that also sounds like something out of an old Metallica track. Despite some of those not landing ā€“ particularly the last one ā€“ they do throw in a bit of a curve ball to keep you guessing.

The final thing I will compliment them on, is their ability to (most of the time) keep their Christian messages in check, and pretty subtle. This isn’t to say that Christian music or Christian messages are inherently wrong or bad in music, but I think especially with a community, and genre such as pop-punk, the strength of some Christian messages would be seen as obnoxious or an overall turn-off. And of course, like I said, some tracks end up being entirely about Christianity, so it’s not a constant throughout the release.

Now to the fun part… The critique of things (I’m not evil, I swear). While their track intros are strong, and noteworthy, they are all very sudden and loud, initially separating each and every one from each other. This does give them a distinct feel, but ruins the entire flow of the album, and it doesn’t feel like a singular record, as much as it does a compilation album a lot of the time. The formulaic approach to the intros and the songs also gets caught onto, if you pay any attention, and it can easily allow you to predict what’s coming next. And sometimes, they just sound significantly worse than other pop-punk bands. In fact, “An Apology” sounds almost exactly like a Simple Plan song, only the production is slightly worse, and the lyricism is as well.

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Early-2000’s punk band, Simple Plan.

The experimentation, as I stated earlier, doesn’t always land perfectly. The beginning of “Double Standard” is certainly new and unique, but doesn’t really fit at all with the rest of the song. In fact, I think it may have been recorded separately and spliced in, because the start of the actual song is very sudden and sounds slightly different. The rest of the track isn’t even necessarily bad; in a lot of ways, it’s one of my favorites on there. It has an awesome usage of guitar feedback that plays well into the chaos and speed of the rest of the track, and the overall energy reminds me more of a nu metal band, and not the worst one of all time.

Most of the time though, their music and lyricism is either cliche as hell, or weirdly-done/presented, and most of the time it’s in the chorus. The song “Making History” is awful at this. “Abe Lincoln, move on over,” is a direct quote from the chorus, which is played seemingly a million times, and each time just gets worse for me. “Don’t Forget About Today,” breaks down into a hi-hat-driven chorus, in which the vocalists sound like a dead middle-school choir, forced to recite the words at gunpoint. I don’t know if the harmony is slightly off, if it’s the pacing, or if it’s just me, but that section, vocally, sounds different than the rest of the album entirely. “Fast cars and gui-tars to play,” is another lyrical favorite of mine, just to throw an additional one in there.

Overall, I shouldn’t be surprised with what Hangnail came out with, in their first release in 1999. It’s a small-market pop-punk band, during the age where these were springing up everywhere, and it certainly shows. However, I do think there is something to say about the individual pieces that stuck out. It’s quite obvious the guitar player(s) was incredibly talented, and I do think they made some efforts to branch out in their sound to make a name for themselves. If they continued to develop these specific things, I think they could’ve honestly been a decently popular band, but from what I’ve seen, they didn’t. After releasing a couple more LPs, they broke up in 2003. I can’t say I’m heartbroken about that fact, but I can say I’ll always be stimulated by some of those guitar riffs, and Hangnail may go down as a talented band, that never saw their potential. I’m not going to give this a particular score, as it’s not a new album with a formal review, but stay tuned for more talk of music and other entertainment topics, every Monday and Friday!

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