If the blackbear singles that show up on mainstream Spotify playlists are all that you know him for, then it would be fair to assume that his latest album in loving memory is just another example of an artist leaning into the MGK-headlined trend of using pop punk hooks to make a song go viral on TikTok. Look a little closer and you’ll see it’s more than just that – with drop-ins from founding fathers like The Used, New Found Glory and Bayside. If that’s not evidence enough, take it from us that this is anything but a farce. Despite finding fame outside of the alt genre, blackbear has always been, and will always be, one of us, all the way back to his feature on a metalcore Palisades record seven years ago.
Given his affection for class-of-2004 pop punk, each feature on the album is not only a verse picked up by a brand name in the scene, but a tribute to the sound of each respective guest artist and the legacy they’ve created. This isn’t a Travis Barker-produced album that sounds like a dollar-store rip-off of the music that means so much to us. It’s more like a love letter, which you can tell from the way that ‘poltergeist’ absolutely bodies Bayside’s signature sound, how it sounds eerily exactly like Chad Gilbert playing guitar as New Found Glory’s Jordan Pundik jumps on ‘nothing matters’ and the 2000s iteration of Bert McCracken haunting ‘toxic energy’.
While the string of influence connecting him to early 2000s rock threads authentically through the record, it also lyrically comes from a very real place. On a surface level, ‘fuilu’ (an acronym for “fuck you, I love you”) is comparable to a heartbreak track like ‘idfc’ (“I don’t fucking care”) from blackbear’s earlier history. But the song is actually dedicated to blackbear’s birth father, who passed away before the album was released. On ‘broken world’, he calls out to him over hauntingly layered guitars: “In a broken world, where are you now?” Also running across new territory is final track ‘hazel inside’, which mansionz partner Mike Posner wrote alongside blackbear about becoming a father. Old territory covered – but with scars torn open like fresh wounds – is blackbear’s struggle with addiction, which he grapples with on ‘painkillers’ and ‘back in rehab’.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not also tongue-in-cheek – it is blackbear, after all, who has always carried a lighthearted approach to counterbalance his reaches into the darkness. He asked Machine Gun Kelly to bring the “Eminem diss” version of himself to the studio for ‘gfy’ (“go fuck yourself”), the most sardonic cut of the lot. Despite being an ode to his son, ‘hazel inside’ refuses to keep things serious, as blackbear describes hanging with his kid as a “vibe”. His collab with Bayside’s Anthony Ranieri is titled ‘poltergeist’ as a nod to a collection by Raf Simons, blackbear’s favourite fashion designer. It’s not all doom and gloom without a little levity, which the artist skilfully weaves through in a style that borrows from the candour of his inarguably successful career in hip hop.
Speaking to BLUNT a couple of years ago, blackbear observed the rising tide of emo influencing hip hop and vice versa. “I’m loving every second of it,” he said at the time, “and I hope it lasts forever.” On in loving memory, blackbear takes a step himself to pay his respects to the artists that shaped who he is today, ensuring that no one forgets them – and their influence on the resurgence of their sound – anytime soon.