This Christmas, as I was thrust into the past by an assortment of old-school gifts, I found myself in the good company of blink-182. After tumultuous years of side projects and split-ups, this trio of late 30-somethings has attempted to breathe new life into the fragments of their lost youth. Unchained from the restraints of a major label, blink-182 wrestled with their inner Django and tried to revamp the conventions that their music helped create, albeit with less blood than the Tarantino film. Dogs Eating Dogs serves as a testament to the group’s career and a taste of what future full-length efforts could sound like. When blink-182’s comeback record Neighborhoods was released to lukewarm praise two years ago, fans and critics alike questioned if these aging pop-punk pioneers could retain the footholds their previous efforts kept on the alternative music scene, as the boys’ side projects seemed to pull them in various disjointed directions. The finished product was wrought with darkness; themes of isolation and confusion defined a track list more akin to Joy Division than joviality. Fortunately, Dogs Eating Dogs is exactly what 2003’s untitled album would have birthed if not for the band’s unsettling hiatus. It retains the unbridled energy but borrows from the progress gained from the members’ contrasting backgrounds and the uneven yet ambitious textures of their last release. The EP kicks off its brief 19 minutes with “When I Was Young.” The rollicking starter’s synth rhythms gain strength from Travis Barker’s ethereal drumming and the trade-off harmonies that populate the track’s chorus. The title track sounds like an outtake from Mark Hoppus’ single-album side-project ( 44), with hyperpoliticized lyrics and an odd refrain of “dogs eating dogs / dogs eating dogs” branding it as overwrought and uninteresting. “Disaster” ushers in the return of a stadium-rock flavor, with radio frequency samples washing over delayed guitars and Hoppus’ smooth tenor. Luckily for listeners, it echoes boisterous selections from blink’s back catalog (2003’s “Asthenia” and 2011’s “Wishing Well”). DeLonge’s wordplay delivers some of the cheesiest lines in recent memory (“What do you fear, my love? / Your soul, it will float like a dove”) and he coyly sings of “French braids and demonic hearts.” Strangeways, here we come. “Boxing Day” fits nicely as a holiday song and it’s a drastic departure from blink’s past yuletide efforts. It’s as chilling as Charlottesville weather and does away with the immature tone of early Christmastime releases. It’s the first acoustic number from the guys since 2003’s “I Miss You” and wows, even if its vocal melody reeks of Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” The closer “Pretty Little Girl” is the most adventurous on Dogs, as it owes itself to a unexpected appearance from Yelawolf, who skates and spits game more ferociously than Lil’ Wayne. His verse boasts of a broken home, which clashes with the uplifting love song. It’s a noble effort from Barker to get a word in edgewise, but its inclusion has alienated the blink fanbase, even sparking alternate versions of the song with the rap removed. It’s a mixed bag, but for fans of the Alabamian’s solo work it’s a warm welcome. Unwary travelers of Neighborhoods have a lot to appreciate with Dogs Eating Dogs. It’s undeniably blink material, with a lighter tone than the aforementioned album. One thing’s clear: The trio is back, even if they’re showing sure signs of age.