Photo by: Alan Snodgrass

For more than 25 years, northern California’s Bracket have felt like a square peg in a world of round holes. “We have always thought it was hard for us to fit in, wherever we were,” says guitarist Angelo Celli. “It’s difficult for people to pinpoint us and put us in a category.”

The story goes that Bracket were too melodic to be punk, and too punk to be pop. But the band found a home at a haven for misfits, Fat Wreck Chords. The label released Bracket’s early EPs and three albums (1997’s Novelty Forever, 2000’s When All Else Fails, and 2002’s Live in a Dive), and also included Bracket on the massively popular compilations Fat Music for Fat People and Survival of the Fattest.

Bracket went their own way to explore their love of classic pop and Beach Boys harmonies on 2006’s Requiem (Takeover Records), 2014’s Hold Your Applause (self-released), and 2016’s The Last Page (an ambitious 70-minute single song, also self-released).  Singer-guitarist Marty Gregori even wrote and recorded an album of string quartet music. But performing at Fat’s 25th anniversary show in 2015 reconnected Bracket and Fat. Too Old to Die Young, Bracket’s ninth full-length, comes from that reunion.

Celli remembers Fat co-leader Fat Mike approaching Bracket at the show about doing another album for the label. “You guys can still do weird harmonies and all that,” Celli recalls Mike saying, “but make it a little more punky.” He laughs. “We were flattered. We missed working with them.”

Too Old to Die Young finds Bracket still indulging their love of Brian Wilson harmonies, but taking a more straightforward songwriting approach—or as straightforward as Bracket get. “Cloud Ate” opens the album with a riff straight out of the late ’80s D.C. post-hardcore scene. The classic power pop of “Going Out of Style in Style” boasts “Yellow Submarine”-esque backup vocals.

But Too Old to Die Young distills the Bracket sound that stretches back to when “2rak005” hooked listeners on Fat Music for Fat People in 1994: propulsive, hooky songs that build on punk’s framework. Self-recorded over the period of a couple of years, Too Old to Die Young also finds Bracket at their most collaborative. Celli, Charlos, and Gregori wrote everything together, including lyrics, with drummer Ray Castro working out parts at his home in Denver. For the first time, Charlos sings lead on “Going Out of Style in Style,” and Celli sings “Exit Interview” and “Antisocial Inactivism.”

Too Old to Die Young wrestles with the themes implied by its title, including a wariness that comes from making music for such a long time. “It wasn’t like we set out to have a particular theme,” Celli says. “Too Old to Die Young—the idea of living fast, dying young—but here we are, we’re in our 40s and still trying to make this kind of music. We’re poking fun at ourselves, basically.”

That is the Bracket way. This deep into their career, they’re not overthinking what they write or what they want to accomplish. “We’re still doing this because we’re best friends,” Celli says. “We like making music together, and we can’t imagine doing that with anyone else.”