Allie Hanlon's long-running Peach Kelli Pop project has never been without its charms. Even when PKP was more or less a bedroom project, Hanlon showed a knack for crafting punk songs that came across as lightweight while belying a fierceness and discipline that the thick layers of lo-fi gloop on her first few releases couldn't entirely obscure.
Peach Kelli Pop come into their own as a band on their fourth full-length, Gentle Leader. The record features the contributions of bassist and guitarists Gina and Sophie Negrini (who also play in Hanlon?s live band) and drummer Andrew Bassett of the Mean Jeans, which give Gentle Leader a sonic fullness that Peach Kelli Pop lacked when it was just Hanlon bashing away in her bedroom. But this is still Hanlon's show. It?s her vibrant personality that powers Gentle Leader forward with the same high-octane energy, unapologetically girlish aesthetics, and gummy hooks that have distinguished Peach Kelli Pop from the beginning.
Gentle Leader doesn?t deviate PKP?s established formula of keyed-up, rainbow-hued pop-punk songs, but it does sharpen its edges. Studio polish removes the fuzz that once muted the band?s hooks, and the newfound clarity allows every facet of PKP's tightly coiled sound to sparkle in the light of Hanlon's exuberant presence. Gentle Leader also features some of Hanlon?s strongest songwriting to date, showing a transition from basic garage rock structures to more sophisticated arrangements rooted in the indie pop school of punk, a natural fit for her growing musicianship.
The band dives right in with "Hello Kitty Knife," a giddy celebration of self-care and self-defense played breathlessly fast with guitar tones so bright they stop just short of screeching. Propulsive earworm ?Black Magic? takes its cues from power pop, but sports more than a hint of Heavenly in its lyrics. Hanlon dials down her hyperactive energy on several tracks, including the adorable "King Size," a tender song about a pit bull with a heart of gold (one of two songs about animals on Gentle Leader).
As a lyricist, Hanlon's outlook is positive - ?Don?t Push Me? is the closest she gets to a straight-out rebuke on the entire record - but PKP is a punk band, and the best songs on Gentle Leader have a kind of self-aware cheekiness that dares you to dismiss them as novelty. "Cherry (That's Not Her Real Name)" is peak Peach Kelli Pop, a vivacious bubblegum gem that?s the perfect blend of tart and sweet, the band spinning around manically around on three cheerful chords. Add in a pitch-perfect Marine Girls cover, and Gentle Leader positions Peach Kelli Pop as the latest star in a firmament of female-fronted punk bands whose soft exterior packs a hard punch.