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Music critics love when pop-punk bands mature, but most loyal listeners hate it, since it so often means stepping away from the eternally adolescent genre they love and into territory that may be too new, too different. It's rare, then, that a maturing pop-punk band can satisfy both the music critic and loyal listener, but Ontario's Safe to Say finds the balance on their second full-length Down in the Dark. This balance wasn't struck without some toil, though, says singer and guitarist Brad Garica, who spent a year privately piecing together melodies on voice memos and scraps of paper, choosing not to share the songs with the band, even as they entered the studio. Though the writing process made recording more complicated, it also allowed Safe to Say's creativity to flourish.
The result of this unconventional process is an unconventional product, one that embraces the pop-punk that Safe to Say mastered on their previous EP Hiding Games even as it breaks its own rules. Songs like "Only Rain" and "Afterglow" display that band best, the latter's scorching chorus heated by chords so hot that they're lined by streaks of acoustic to keep them cool. Other songs push those conventions – the corkscrewing melodies, the explosive emotion, the sleeve-sewn lyrics – to different places; "Tangerine," with its somber guitar and swells of strings, may be the most powerful song on the album, however subdued the song may seem.
And this is why Down in the Dark strikes that stubborn balance: Safe to Say's melodic and lyrical maturity appeals to the music critic, tells an interesting story, but there's still enough pop in this punk – and enough punk in this pop – to appeal to their loyal listeners. Regardless of what this maturity means and who it impresses most, though, it reveals a band who's grown beyond these concerns. "Safe to Say is four people, who happen to grow and write music together," Garcia concludes. "And, to me, that's just rock and roll."