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Review: Hockey Dad, 'Boronia'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Hockey Dad, <em>Boronia</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Hockey Dad, Boronia

When you're young, summers tend to feel endless and carefree. For many, memories of this age — when you have the freedom to attack a day with reckless abandon — still conjure a golden-hour glow in our minds. For Hockey Dad, that vibrant spirit and defiant charm fuels its debut album, Boronia. Messy and fun, the Australian duo's pop-punk bursts with chunky guitars and big riffs as they collide with yowling vocals and firecracker drumming. It's the perfect sun-streaked soundtrack for skinned-knee skate videos and beach bonfires at dusk; for staying out late and sleeping in later, only to do it all over again the next day.

Bolstered by the fuzzed-out guitars of Zach Stephenson and the vigorous drum barrage of Billy Fleming, Hockey Dad plays with a dynamic lockstep chemistry forged over a childhood spent goofing off together: Stephenson and Fleming have not only known each other since they were 4, but also grew up living a few doors down from each other on Boronia Street in the Australian coastal town of Windang. By 13, the two surfer kids were jamming with Stephenson's dad's old gear in the garage; five years later, they were touring as Hockey Dad, a moniker pulled from a deep-cut reference to The Simpsons.

On Boronia, Hockey Dad sings about what its members know best: "Dylan's Place" is an ode to surfing, swimming in the ocean and the general awesomeness of being outside; "Jump The Gun" celebrates beer-soaked ragers that roll into early mornings: "I don't wanna go home, I'm having too much fun... so leave me alone!" Stephenson chants atop a bright hook. Elsewhere, "I Need A Woman" is about being attracted to girls who are just out of reach and completely out of their league, as he sings, "Give it time and she'll be all mine / Just like Juliet / Keep on wondering if she has fallen in love with me yet."

In addition to those frequent nods to surfing, partying and youthful attraction, Hockey Dad also gets surprisingly reflective on Boronia. A recurring thread hints at how playful crushes and the promise of new love can dim with rejection ("Honey Bunny," "Can't Have Them"), or wanting more from a relationship than just one-night hookups: "You say you wanna play, but you just wanna fight / I reach out to love you, but you just go and bite," Stephenson sings in "A Night Out With." Another fizzy highlight, "So Tired," reveals the heartsick loneliness at its core when he laments, "You know I've been blue / Crawling after you" — only to erupt with the shout-along refrain, "I've got sleeping on my mind!"

Stephenson even depicts some of a relationship's more complicated shades in "Raygun," which finds him under the spell of a girl and wondering if his love is requited: "I see her in my dreams, but I don't think she sees how much she means to me / To me it's everything." Then, in its knife-twisting, fist-pumping chorus, he gets his answer: "Shot me down with her raygun." "Laura" doubles as both a boozy, angry kiss-off ("She knows all of my tricks / Breaks my heart just for kicks") and a love song about stubbornly holding on to feelings: "I can't help it / She's too perfect."

Near the end of Boronia, in the mellow and glimmering "Two Forever," the sentiment shifts: "You'll always be a friend of mine / At least for one more lifetime... I don't need love, don't need no woman / Don't need that s***, cause I got you, man." For all the beer-soaked misadventures, romantic false starts and bummed-out feelings for ones that got away, it's in this moment when Hockey Dad best revels in the loyal bond between its two bandmates. For a duo young enough to remember when things felt simpler, Hockey Dad is wise enough to recognize that as we get older, friendships are what's most likely to last.

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Mike Katzif