This may or may not surprise you, but I was what I call a “Hot Topic” kid growing up. If there was a band featured in Hot Topic, I probably listened to them. I never dressed the part, but I always loved punk and rock music. Borrowed Sparks’ “Are You Listening” takes me right back to my high school years, smack dab in the middle of my Hot Topic phase.

“Only nineteen, but the damage had been done.”

Mike Bay, the singer/songwriter who publishes under the moniker of Borrowed Sparks, says his influences come from a blending of bands like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, with the later addition of punk rock. I believe him – there’s a very definitive blending of new and old with “Are You Listening.”

“Do you remember when the songs used to write themselves?
And we plugged in and it all came out,
Are you listening?”

It may be to my detriment that I still hear my Hot Topic roots in the chorus, but it is not an uncommon theme that I’ve seen as I’ve grown older – the bands that used to sing about young freedom have grown up too and yearn for the comfort and freedom and creativity of youth. Is this simply growing up or is this somewhat compounded by the anxieties of the decade? Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t seem to have changed much when it comes to his thesis in the 80s and today, while bands like Twenty One Pilots and, as I mentioned before, All Time Low, have brought the new thesis with them: a sadness of growing up and the nature of being an adult.

“And it takes too long and they end too soon,
The chorus just ain’t the same without you,
Are you listening?”

There’s also specific feeling of the Neon Trees’ song “Songs I Can’t Listen To,” which is technically more New Wave and alt-rock than Borrowed Sparks’ listed influences, but the feeling of loss of meaning to a song when you’re no longer with the person who made it special is a similar message in both songs.

I would be remiss to not mention the instrumentation, which once again takes me right back to my favorite music growing up. The drums are so pop-punk it hurts, and the bell-like chimes that create the bridge through the first repetition of the titular line in the chorus (and open the track) give the song a bit more interest than just a simple bass, guitar and drum version. Of course, a guitar riff using the same tones could have been used, but props to Borrowed Sparks for using
more than just the most basic instruments in his music. I’m also impressed by his lyrical abilities:

“And the record spun for days,
Hiding from the cops in the cigarette haze.”

This brings me to my final thoughts: I will admit that many people would take the endorsement of what was, at one time, considered the extremely embarrassing younger sibling of “real” rock and punk music fans. But I really do enjoy “Are You Listening.” I’ve always enjoyed the bands that grew with me rather than the ones who stagnated, and Borrowed Sparks is definitely one of the bands in my favorite genres of music that has grown up. It may be a melancholy ode to times
gone by, but it’s also hopeful and looks towards the future with room for growth.

“They may have been paper crowns,
But I swear, we own this town.”

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