The Hextalls (named after a popular former NHL goaltender) are a pop punk band from Kamloops, BC that formed in 1998 and released a pair of albums before breaking up in 2002. I listened to them a little bit back then, but mostly due to the hockey connection as neither album is particular good. Not bad, but largely forgettable. However, the band got back together in 2007 and since that time have been better than they ever were during their initial run. They released three albums between 2008 and 2012, each better than the last, and quickly became one of my favourite pop punk bands.
Play With Heart is their latest release and it’s more of the same in a slightly smaller package. By their standards it’s sort of a mini album, containing only 8 tracks and clocking in at just under 20 minutes total, yet it doesn’t feel short thanks to the length of the songs. On average they usually write songs in the 90 to 120 seconds range, but Play With Heart is almost exclusively comprised of two and a half minute Hextalls epics. This makes the album and songs feel more fleshed out and polished than earlier work.
As for the music, well this is fairly simple, straight-forward high-octane power chord pop punk fueled by childish humour and nothing more. If you don’t already like some of that sort of thing, I doubt this will change your mind. This isn’t radio pop punk though, let me get that out of the way right now. This is DIY independent pop punk that’s not concerned with image, cheap emotional hooks, or cliche relationship drama. It’s fun “who gives a shit?” music with lyrics about whatever random crap the band likes, hates, or feels like talking about.
The album opens with the affectionately titled “Welcome to Pooville” which is apparently about the video game Animal Crossing: New Leaf. It’s got some neat guitar and bass riffs but who cares because it’s just warming you up for the album’s best track, coming up next!
“Ouch, My Childhood” is a badass song about all those fuckholes in Hollywood raping our childhood with shitty remakes and ill-advised sequels. It’s catchy as hell and blasts everyone from George Lucas to Ridley Scott to Michael Bay (especially Michael Bay). Oh, and Colin fucking Farrell too. This song sees lead guitarist Jeremy take over vocal duties from band leader Devin (a rare occurrence) and he kills it. His snottier delivery really drives the point home. Damnit, this slab of awesomeness should be the Supernaughts theme song. It even has a super cool retro 8-bit video!
After that one it’s all downhill. Well, not really, more like a gentle slope into steady cruise control. “I Bought You a Singing Toilet” is another catchy number about Devin trying to potty train his son. “Danny Glover vs the World” is a weird one, part Glover appreciation song, part actor confusion song, and part Damon Wayans diss track. Then we get the required hockey-themed song and this one is even more Canadian-centric than usual. “Who’s the #1 Cop?” is about goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and references the famous (at least in Canada) Jay Onrait bits from TSN SportsCentre (which I believe were influenced by The Simpsons McGarnagle segments). This is probably the second best song on the album, though I may be slightly biased.
Next we have the self-explanatory “I Love Michael J. Fox” with its corny sing-along aspect, followed by “Let’s Build Robots”, a hilarious song about building a Chad Kroeger robot army to destroy Avril Lavigne. The album then closes out with a cover of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” done in the traditional punk rock cover fashion (faster and edgier).
Overall, Play With Heart is a solid album from top to bottom, full of catchy pop punk songs that are fun and fast. It never takes itself seriously and why should it? Sometimes you don’t need to push new ground or showcase any sort of technical prowess, you just need to prove you’re having a damn good fucking time and pass that energy along to the listener. The Hextalls are certainly capable of that.
Finally, I’d also like to mention that Play With Heart includes a bonus commentary track where Devin talks about the album while listening to it. I doubt they’re the first band to do this, but it is the first time I’ve encountered it. Anyway, the commentary track was very cool. It provides some insider info on how songs came together and it’s pretty damn funny to boot. Hopefully this becomes common practice in the music industry much like it is with movies and television shows already.