It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when heart-on-sleeve pleading and scrubbed-clean choruses became the choice means of musical expression for youthful, would-be punks, but the result feels like a whole generation raised on artificial, mass-market rebellion. Don’t get me wrong: Ace Enders has two beloved bands under his belt (the Early November and I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business), and for a clean-cut dude who looks like Michael Cera, he can certainly belt out anthems. But this solo record is a 14-track jukebox of drippy, emo crowd-pleasing.
Warming up with “Reintroduction,” he’s already pairing throaty emoting with aching sensitivity (“And now I surrender to you, my love”). Then comes the more upbeat, ’80s-influenced “Take the Money and Run,” and after it, the weepy and acoustic “New Guitar.” The lead single “The Only Thing I Have (The Sign)” sounds disturbingly similar to Nada Surf’s “Happy Kid,” and the title track is another predictable piano ballad-turned-rocker.
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At its worst, When I Hit the Ground makes such overtures to the mainstream that it’s hard to believe it was released by two indie labels once respected for their influential punk output. “Emergency” could easily double as Enders’ American Idol audition, and “Leader” is straight Coldplay. At least the New Wave-y “SOS” tempers its sappy premise with a light musical touch and a bumper-sticker refrain (“SOS to loneliness”). But that’s a rare moment of levity on a heavy-handed album that tries to win over everyone to the point of losing its identity.