Breaklights’ Instructed to Fail Transcends Pop Punk Nostalgia

by Brian J. Audette

Breaklights Instructed to Fail

Video game development personality Cliff Bleszinski has what he calls a “10-15 year rule,” that in part he uses to explain why we tend to see the same properties and styles of gameplay rebooted on what feels like a fairly regular schedule. The gist of it is that “things that were around 10+ years ago are bound to not be known by the current crop of teens.” Therefore what might be “old” or “nostalgic” to grown ups, is new to the kids. The same thing happens in music on both large and small scales. In part it’s because it’s new to “the kids,” but also because the people producing the content are often emulating something they loved when they were younger. To that end I’ve noticed a definite revival of late 90’s emo and post-hardcore over the last year and local four-piece Breaklights-– with their Instructed to Fail EP– are the latest addition to that growing list. Speaking as someone for whom “90’s” is more genre than decade, this pleases me greatly.

If you’re familiar with bands like Jimmy Eat World, Brand New, Jets to Brazil, or any of their early 2000’s clones, then you’ll recognize much of what Breaklights are about right away. The rest of the equation seems steeped in the smooth production and delivery of mid-late 90’s rock and pop-punk. Instructed to Fail opens strong with the feedback whine and pick-slide intro of “Fake Out”, a tight tune bolted to the frame of a classic pop-punk rhythm, but interspersed with bouts of fancy drumming, vocal harmonies, and angsty (but not childishly so) lyrics.

The band plays tight and fast, with a clean, but edgy sound that evokes the garage-to-arena fast track ethos touted by record labels in the 90’s, but still feels fresh and fun. Singer Charlie’s vocal delivery is a velvety slip cover over the burnished surface of Breaklights’ straight up rocking, providing an approachable, more pop-friendly access point for the average listener. Track two, “Mainstay” opens with a riff that has a little more bite and almost feels lovingly cribbed and adapted from an At The Drive-In tune. With a little less agency than the lead track, the song still manages to rock along at a steady pace, revisiting a similar composition, but culminating in a quiet moment of near acapella harmony.

Penultimate track “Drag me Down” would be the EP’s obvious single, opening with a razor sharp guitar riff and exploding into a classic pop-punk rhythm shortly after. A fast-paced summer break up song, Charlie sings: “A bag of bones, an empty home, surround me/A busted heart, a brand new start, confound me” over racing, angular guitars, and a full-sprint heartbeat rhythm. It’s the track that you turn up as soon as it comes on the radio, hands slapping the dashboard, singing along because you’ve been there before, you’ve felt that too. The EP closes with “Attached to You” a slower, but still full-tilt rocking track, continuing on the theme of break ups, offering little in the way of closure, but plenty of co-misery.

Fast, slick, and poppy without being dull, Breaklights’ Instructed to Fail is a fun collection of songs that manages to emulate 90’s post-hardcore without resorting to parody or feeling like a murky reflection. There’s a sincerity in Breaklights’ delivery that transcends nostalgia. This is the music they want to play, the way they want to play it and the EP succeeds in large part because of that. If you missed the heyday of post-hardcore, consider Breaklights a gateway to a larger world, the same way that the post-hardcore and emo bands of the late 90’s were for me. If you’re an old fart then Breaklights may remind you of the past, while showing that the future still has a lot of promise as well.

You can catch Breaklights next Wednesday, August 3rd at Sidewinder with Turnaways.

Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at or on Twitter at @bjaudette.