There are few bands I’ve been a longer fan of than The Maine. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the group perform live nine or ten times, and have dozens of sporadic photos with various members of the band—from frontman John O’Callaghan to sly bassist Garrett Nickelsen. It’s difficult to sum up into words the impact this band has had on my life. The 8123 community (the band’s label) and all its fans are filled with incredible individuals, and the group’s albums have been with me through every stage of life. I met one of my best friends when she showed me The Maine’s 2011 album Pioneer, the band’s first independent departure from their “pop punk” roots, and the album remains one of my favorite releases of the 2010s.
The community, the love, the memories and experiences are again brought to the forefront with release of The Maine’s eighth full-length album, XOXO: From Love and Anxiety in Real Time. Released this past Friday, XOXO is an upbeat embrace of both joy and uncertainty. As a sort of relative “normalcy” begins to set back in after a tumultuous year that was arguably filled with nothing but anxiety, this album serves as a reminder that 18 months of difficulty and hardship was not without love, even if we didn’t always recognize it.
For the most part, XOXO is The Maine at their “poppiest” in years, although there’s still moments of lead singer John O’Callaghan’s signature reflection, poetry and vulnerability. “Sticky,” the lead single and first song on XOXO, is extremely catchy and very accessible. It’s actually the highest chart-topping song in the history of The Maine, clocking in at #19 on Billboard’s Alternative/Rock later in June (though the song dropped in March). The band pushed pretty heavily to get “Sticky” included in rotation on popular rock stations, and they managed to succeed, largely due to the strength of their fanbase who requested it nonstop (like me).
What follows “Sticky” are “Lips” and “Love in Real Time,” two songs that bleed into each other and are complementary, as John states in this track-by-track breakdown with Rock Sound. “Lips” is very reminiscent of songs from The Maine’s 2015 album “American Candy,” filled to the brim with repetitive guitar chords and easygoing strumming. It immediately spills into “Love In Real Time,” a slower, heavier song reverbing with drums and echoing vocals.
Working on our love in real time
Making all this love in real time
An interesting dichotomy about the album is, obviously, the relationship between love and anxiety. Love represents a present feeling, something that’s fleeting, all-consuming and real. Anxiety, on the other hand, is rooted in uncertainty and fear—it’s always there in the back of our minds. But by consciously focusing on “love in real time,” we’re able to feel the full extremity of our emotions, our gratitude and our connection to others. Anxiety exists in our heads, but love lives in the present moment.
Next up is “High Forever,” a song that somehow landed its way onto Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist (!!! go The Maine). Here, The Maine alludes to the fact that it’s sometimes nice to take a little anesthesia (like getting HiGh) to forget about the pressures of the world, but at the end of the day, “life is a bittersweet surrender.”
“April 7th” is one of the strongest songs off XOXO, a beautiful nod to the day that John first laid eyes on his now-wife back in 2017. “April 7th” is more like The Maine we’ve come to know and love; it’s emotional, it’s sing-songy, it’s graceful. John recalls the image of the love of his life whenever he closes his eyes, and still sees her every day just like it’s the first time.
A little later on is “Dirty, Pretty, Beautiful,” a song that sounds pretty similar to The 1975. It’s tinged with just a little bit of 80s pop, and doesn’t waste a single second. It’s poppy, it’s catchy, it’s repetitive – the telltale signs of any good song worth driving along and bopping your head to.
Concluding the 10-track album is “Face Towards The Sun,” an epic conclusion to a satisfying album. I’m already antsy with anticipation at the prospect of hearing this song live sometime soon. Right after the first verse, drums and guitars explode into the song, signaling carefree bliss and the release of unspent energy. Knowing the atmosphere that lives in all of The Maine’s concerts, this song is going to be even better live, and I can already hear the crowd singing along with John throughout the song’s bridge.
The Maine’s XOXO: From Love and Anxiety in Real Time is a great, short album, clocking in at only 32 minutes long. It finds The Maine in a more positive state of being, enjoying life in spite of the anxiety; and loving, not learning, to appreciate all the moments in between. Any fan of The Maine knows that O’Callaghan has dealt with his fair share of shit in the past, evidenced by projects like Forever Halloween or the Imaginary Numbers EP. Now, the band sounds more secure and more hopeful. Though XOXO feels like a relatively “safe” record for the group and lacks the more experimental aspects of recent projects, XOXO doesn’t disappoint. It’s gentle, it’s delicate, it’s human. At the end of the day, the album reminds us all to keep our faces toward the sun, and to go confidently in the direction of love.
XOXO: From Love & Anxiety in Real Time is out now.
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