Much has been written and said about the pop-tastic masterpiece that is the new Paramore album, After Laughter, and that’s instantly what I liked about it. There’s this clinging to the idea of them as a pop punk band or some notion that they “sold out” when really, their catalog extends beyond any slivered-up genre and just into one big category of modern American pop-rock. And is there anything wrong with that? Not to me. Paramore is a band I’ve always had a place in my heart for.

They’re just ubiquitous — if someone had to soundtrack a movie about a musically-inclined Millennial  in the 2000s or 2010s, you could do worse than plucking a few Paramore songs.

They’ve had so many strong points throughout their discography, even dating back to the albums from the last decade: The soaring throw-down chords of “For a Pessimist I’m Pretty Optimistic”  on Riot! are instantly satisfying — the nostaglia and homesickness of wandering youth on “Franklin” on All We Know Is Falling is identifiable and timeless. I still love these songs even though I’ve been playing them forever.

Then 2009’s brand new eyes broke through with a fresher sound (and coincided with a break-up) that veered more toward pop-rock and showed off Hayley Williams in a better light than ever. From her reaching screech on “Careful” to that stunning high note in “All I Wanted” (you know the one), she had a better command of her voice than on any proceeding records and really leaned into what she could do.

It’s also fun to listen to albums from 10 year ago like Riot! and realize I still know every word — let alone to think what my life was like then, how I identified with these songs, and how those crises and concerns have faded so much with time.

I spent lots of time with After Laughter when traveling through Colorado the weekend it came out, and since then choice tracks have made their way onto my workout/morning playlists. I really dig it, not only for its funky melodies and interesting sounds, but mostly for its attitude, this sort of in-your-face cynical optimism, this “I’m not playing this game or loving this life but I’m going to do me anyway” kind of vibe. “Fake Happy,” for instance, nails this sentiment on the head.

There’s one track in particular I binged on at any moment — “26,” the ballad, where Williams’ soprano and heartfelt emotion really shine through. Come to think of it, I’ve always really loved it when they slow things down and do the power ballad thing — but “26” is not about power, it is more about the quiet strength one finds with age and time. It’s about holding onto what you have and dreaming for something more, even at a time when the world and those around you are holding you down. And it exemplifies, as this band’s music always does, that Paramore is much more than a pop punk band, that Williams’ is much more than a petite chick rocker, and that those who live seemingly glamorous dream lives may be wishing and hoping for something else, something more, in an authentically unifying way.

You got me tied up but I stay close to the window
And I talk to myself about the places that I used to go
And hope that someday maybe I just float away
And I’ll forget every cynical thing you said
When you gonna hear me out
Man, you really bring me down

Hold onto hope if you got it
Don’t let it go for nobody
They say that dreaming is free
I wouldn’t care what it cost me

~26
Paramore, After Laughter