Relient K’s lovable breed of Christian pop punk had been around since the late 90’s, but it wasn’t fully perfected until Mmhmm, a familiarly quirky yet more serious take that retains the band’s fun composure while also allowing lead singer Matt Thiessen and company to assert themselves as more credible artists. Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right…But Three Do was a wonderfully pleasant and amusing album, made complete by its raw and unrefined punk sound, but it’s lyrical focus was really only relatable for high school and college teenagers. Mmhmm avoids this narrow scope and expands to a heavier sound with more serious content, but it still maintains the bouncy guitar riffs, spiritedly rhythmic drumming and optimistic lyrics that make Relient K’s music so jovial and ultimately endearing. As both singer and songwriter, Thiessen has never been better, commanding the audience’s attention with silky smooth and affecting vocals while also branching out into higher and more strained pitches to convey elevated emotion and intensity when necessary. The overall production values are better than ever and each infectious track brings something enjoyable and heartfelt to the table to make Mmhmm the band’s best work yet.
“Be My Escape” best represents the compositional style of Mmhmm as a whole, blending a harder alternative rock sound with catchy, lighthearted choruses. Matt Hoopes’ twangy electric guitar riffs, Brain Pittman’s groovy bass line and Dave Douglas buoyant drum beat keep things light but also show versatility when that heavier influence is needed. All the while, Thiessen’s sweet and perfectly composed voice gives this single its sentimental appeal, complemented well by his piano to show Relient K’s maturing and more respectable sound, a notion further enhanced by intelligently crafted lyrics.
“My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend” boasts some of the strongest songwriting of the album as Thiessen weaves his joyful and intriguing narrative: “He’s the guy that you should feel sorry for / He had the world but he thought that he wanted more / I owe it all to the mistake he made back then / I owe it all to my girl’s ex-boyfriend.” This entertaining tale is set to an infectious background of guitar-chugging and rhythmic drumming, making it one of the many aesthetically pleasing songs of the album.
Although the majority of Mmhmm remains on the cheery side, songs like “Life After Death And Taxes” give a glimpse of Relient K’s heavier and more dramatic side. The pulsing guitar riffs, booming drums and even the use of some unclean vocals give this song an edge, but it’s not too heavy and won’t drive away more casual fans at the same time. This heavier style strays from Relient K’s trademark brand of lighthearted and carefree pop punk a little bit, but adds to the album’s variety and the band’s ever-expanding repertoire, especially considering that Relient K can rock out when they put their minds to it.
While the band’s preceding record established Relient K’s highly enjoyable and easygoing pop punk approach, Mmhmm expands upon it, intertwining more serious and emotional ideas with the same quirky humor and wit that originally put this appealing Christian group on the map. The carefree and naive attitude of past albums is gone, but in its place is a more mature, artistic and spiritually reflective approach that translates into a more thought-provoking and memorable entry. The most impressive aspect of this is Mmhmm‘s overarching theme of optimism despite mankind’s reprehensible nature, which is seen through Thiessen’s revealing songwriting focused on admitting flaws and hoping to be better, sentiments displayed in songs like “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” that never come off as preachy or overly dramatic. Additionally, the compositional eclecticism of this album should not be missed, as the banjo of “Which To Bury, Us Or The Hatchet,” the piano of the uplifting ballad “Let It All Out” and the Motion City Soundtrack-worthy synthesizers of “More Than Useless” help give each song its own respective flair. Fans of Switchfoot, House Of Heroes, Hawk Nelson, Five Iron Frenzy, Sanctus Real, The Starting Line, FM Static and Run Kid Run likely already acknowledge Relient K as one of the frontrunners of the Christian rock genre, but giving any album other than Mmhmm credit as their best work is inconceivable.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Rank: 1st (six total albums)
- The One I’m Waiting For
- Be My Escape
- High Of 75
- I So Hate Consequences
- The Only Thing Worse Than Beating A Dead Horse Is Betting On One
- My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend
- More Than Useless
- Which To Bury, Us Or The Hatchet
- Let It All Out
- Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been
- Maintain Consciousness
- This Week The Trend
- Life After Death And Taxes
- When I Go Down