Steve Stanley and the Mercs’ When in Roam is a pristine, idyllic, near-perfect early ’00s Christian punk-rock album with some country-punk leanings thrown in. If every new generation’s music serves a similar social purpose in helping us wind our way through the challenges of life, When in Roam is Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, But Three Do for everyone who was too young to grow up with Relient K. It’s remarkable how many of the sonic markers that Stanley checks off: pleasantly nasally vocals, yearning vocal lines, rapidfire drumming, guitars that span the distance between youthful adrenaline and earnest melodicism, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics documenting big emotions (“Ten Years Ago,” “Fear in a Handful of Dust,” “I’m a Ship,” okay pretty much every song).
When you throw in a production job that’s a spot-on re-creation of the sonic space that Relient K mined in the early ’00s, you have an album that is a deeply enjoyable nostalgic trip for late 20s pop-punk fans and (I hope) a thrilling experience for young pop-punk fans. I don’t know if people are still into FM Static, but they’re another sonic touchstone here. The first time I heard the sonic, emotional, and religious crescendo crest in closer “Death and Nostalgia,” I got shivers: with “It is Well” as the main line and a counterpoint of Stanley’s own creation layering on top of it, I could hear the brilliant songwriter emerging (just like I could with Relient K’s Matt Thiessen, all those years ago–and then we got the masterpiece mmhmm and “Deathbed”). I expect great things for Steve Stanley and the Mercs.