Data Disc #1: Contemporary Bummer Punk and More

Posted: by The Editor

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Welcome to the first edition of Data Disc, a column featuring short reviews of music new and old! For those unfamiliar, a data disc is a CD-R burned to full capacity (aka 700mb) and it can only be read in newer CD players and computers. I just happen to have one of those CD players in my car but no aux or tape deck, and I have accumulated tons of discs stuffed with tons of music across multitudes of genres. For this first column we’re delving into recent releases and some older deep cuts from bands that loosely fall under the term ‘Bummer Punk.’ With all the controversy over defining emo, pop-punk, post-hardcore, and screamo, it seems easier to put these rock bands under an umbrella term that captures the punk history, melancholy, and angst of these bands.

Prince Daddy and the Hyena – Adult Summers EP (Counter Intuitive Records 2017/2015)

Hailing from Albany, NY, these upstate boys know how to rock ’n’ roll and have definitely listened to plenty of Weezer. Without a single track crossing the three minute mark, they serve up a hefty amount of riffs at a breakneck pace. The scream-sing vocals may not be to everyone’s taste, but how can you deny the gang vocals and drum machines peppered across the EP (especially that *HIDDEN TRACK*)? This feels like it’s meant to be shared with friends while driving down the highway with the windows down. More on Prince Daddy later in the column! 

Birote the Musical – That Weird Boy Lorenzo (Self Released 2016)

Birote the Musical might be a three piece but it’s far from your traditional rock band. Using stand-up bass, drums, classical guitar and trumpet, these guys toe the line between cryptic folk punk, fast-paced latin music, and free jazz. Lyrics shrouded in metaphor and surreal imagery tell stories grounded in the experiences of being an outsider and person of color in modern america. Claremont PD, Afghani victims, psychedelic mushrooms, wasted nights in the Inland Empire, gameboys, and special Ed all make an appearance throughout the album, as well as fierce upright bass from Frank, trumpet blasts from Neil, and pounding punk rhythms from their drummer Chandler.

Prince Daddy and the Hyena – I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving (Broken World Media 2016)

This album keeps everything you love about Prince Daddy’s riff-heavy sound but instead of being a few short sprints, we finally get some three minute-plus party bangers! In quick summation: mature songwriting about being immature with strong melodies that carry this album from front to back, no problem. The bangers are still concise but Prince Daddy gives us much more to rock out to on this album than their short EP (reviewed above). Lyrically, the first-person narrative is not just self-deprecating and introspective, but also unabashedly honest and self aware.

Despite an abundance of dissonant, diminished and augmented chords, Prince Daddy have mastered the art of the palm mute and you hear many classic sonic tropes of surf punk, emo, and pop punk; however, they manage to pull it off without sounding like any single one of those genres. The vocals push these songs hard and they might be a point of contention for some, but the urgency of Kornelious’s strained vocal chords make the music that much more intense.

Instructions – Summer Ghost Town EP (Rubber Brothers Records 2014)
Falling somewhere between math rock, post-punk and high energy emo revival riffs, these songs push the tempo and still manage to groove thanks to stellar drumming from Chad Davis. These Arizona fellows were associated with the (former) Phoenix-area institution Rubber Brothers Records and were almost a bit of an anomaly on the garage rock/party punk-focused label.

From the opening blasts and emotive break up lyrics of “Tony”, you can tell their brand of upbeat pulsing music is special. The guitars climb up and down the fret board with enough tapping to satisfy metalheads. But this isn’t mindless shred-tapping- a storm of melodic tapping, palm mutes and deft pick-work sprawl across these songs leaving you wanting more. I would be remiss to not discuss TJ Friga’s vocals which, despite the mid-fi production, rise above the music with nuance. Groovy melodies, polyrhythms and a special nod to latin beats carry these songs beyond overtly technical math rock or twinkly emo revival type stuff you hear now-a-days.

Just Friends – Nothing But Love Promo Tape (Self Released 2017)

The first line opens up with: “You wanted it bad?”. I wanted it bad. And as frontman Sam Kless finishes: “You got it bad”. I am ready to #RockTheWorld to the music of Dublin/Pleasanton’s finest: Just Friends. Their brand of stadium sized rock made for the sweaty basement party didn’t disappoint on their debut album and it certainly doesn’t disappoint over these three sneak preview tracks for their forthcoming album Nothing But Love.

Everything you loved from their last album is there: the outsized riffs, blasting horns, the nasal roar from Sam Kless and overflowing feeling of camaraderie and communal emoting. One exciting addition to the record is soulful female vocals courtesy of Brianda Ofelia de Nocheazúl. Her range and blues inflection provide a perfect foil to Sam’s overtly emotional scream-singing and spitfire rap verses. The theme of the record is obvious- Love- but this is a joyous celebration of love and overcoming. Mixing feverish hip-hop flows with a bed of percussion and massive horn lines, Just Friends crosses into territory beyond pop punk, ska or any other genre you could label their previous releases. Really what comes closest to describing these tracks is Punk Funk. Although there is some homage to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who JF covered at The Fest), the community vibe of bands like Parliment/Funkadelic, The Polyphonic Spree and Earth, Wind and Fire especially come to mind. This is music that is meant to be shared, and I am highly anticipating the full release of Nothing But Love.

Mom Jeans. – Best Buds (Counter Intuitive Records 2016)

With a horde of listeners that just keeps growing, Mom Jeans.’ debut album has a charming naivete that’s heavy with emotions worn directly on their sleeve. Despite the meme-y song titles, the stories that guitarist and singer Eric Butler tells hit you right in the feels (forgive my meme). He’s capturing that liminal part of life where the weight of the “real world” is felt through intense interpersonal relationships as you straddle the line between responsible adulthood and the teenage wasteland. It is a passionate offering, and that rawness may be a turn off, but the album has an underdog vibe and isn’t afraid to wring out the catchiest familiar riffs and twinkly hooks. The stellar drumming from Austin Carango really pulls this album together, and the moments he’s not around always seem to build up to a much needed fiery beating.

While the emo revival has certainly made the most impact on the bands’ sound, you also hear some remnants of their fellow Californian (or formerly Californian) bands like Joyce Manor, Walter Mitty, Just Friends, and Meet Me in Montauk. Eric Butler’s voice has that froggy tinge but it stays highly melodic and even breaks into some great harmonies without overdoing it. Despite the catchy songs, the arrangements are sometimes a bit clunky and while the extra instrumentation and guest vocals are nice, they don’t feel essential to the band’s sound. I wouldn’t hesitate to guess the confessional and relatable lyrics capture the attention of most fans, but understandably some folks might not enjoy the sprinkle of twinkly riffs and palm mute sugar that’s all over this delicious Mom Jeans. sundae.

Graduating Life/Mom Jeans. Split 7” (Riff Castle Records 2017)

Well you just read about Mom Jeans. above so I will start with the Graduating Life side of this split! Is it appropriate to call something emo prog? Graduating Life’s songs move from section to section with the occasional repeat, but for the most part they continually throw fresh nuggets of guitar at you almost incessantly. Some sections are stadium ready (like the harmonized gang vocals and big drums of “Mom Jeans Sucks”) but some of the catchy and unique sounding sections seem to pass in a blur of creative ideas. Bart Thompson bellows and works his wide vocal range. He has clearly amassed a backlog of riffs, melodies and lyrics that he stuffs into each song.

I won’t even touch the silly song titles but the Mom Jeans. side continues the meme-y song titles with their two new offerings. The bulk of both songs are definitely a step up in dynamic range and crisp songwriting but “heck you Bart pt. II: electric boogaloo” seems to peter out with lots of riffs one might describe as pop punk meets low grade math rock. What really makes these tracks shine is the clever lyrics that open each track; they set the stage for deeper introspection and self-evaluation. I can’t say enough good things about Austin’s poignant and dramatic drumming that tastefully rebuilds and re-combines recognizable punk drum motifs into something that uniquely serves the songwriting.

For both bands the stock of riffs seems to be unending and they both shine when the energy is running high. The 7” is only available digitally at the moment but you can preorder it from Riff Castle Records.

Sports./Meet Me in Montauk – Highway To Shell Split (Riff Castle Records/Counter Intuitive Records 2016)

I should probably start this by clarifying that this is the Sports. from Boston, MA and Meet Me In Montauk is from Fresno, CA. This bi-coastal split features more of that twinkly brand of rock ’n’ roll we are calling emo these days. Sports. drumming completes their winding riffs by doubling up and tastefully holding back in half time- its clearly a marathon not a sprint but the energy never lets up. The tone and texture of Kris Ward’s guitar fills the sonic spectrum for this three piece and the meandering riffs are handily matched by the scrambling drums of John Blank.

Meet Me In Montauk bring dueling vocals into the picture while dabbling in a more chord-heavy brand of contemporary emo. MMIM succeed at building giant crescendos with these dueling vocals and the second guitar allows for melodies and riffs that counter the blocks of chords. One of the prime guitar moments is the harmonized tremolo picking at the end of “the truman show”. Similarly one of the prime vocal moments is the soaring harmonies on the chorus of “if young ringo don’t trust ya”. Bart from Graduating Life is a member of MMIM and his contributions are evident, but the sum of the whole keeps the band from wandering into the proggy direction of Graduating Life. MMIM presents more cohesive pop songs with a good dollop of technical/vocal precision that feels like a group effort to achieve maximum dynamics and emotion. 

Tiny Lungs – II (Mountain Man Records 2011)

A 2010 Kali deep cut from the early days of the emo revival. Coming out of the always fertile South Bay/Long Beach scene, Tiny Lungs carved out a niche on the heavier side of emo. Blasting through lo-fidelity production, the baritone scream-sing of lead singer Justin Conway is relentless across these five songs and harkens back to the early days of Joyce Manor, who were peers of the band. Tiny Lungs is like a chord-heavy foil to another local emo favorite, Colossal Rex, with whom they eventually shared members.

The energy of post-hardcore is there and the desperate bellows of Conway complement the revved up octave chords. The drumming is solid and thrashy, if a little uninventive, and the raw quality of this recording smears the bass into a mass of roaring guitars. Recalling early Braid and their friends in Summer Vacation, this is high quality rough and tumble emo that will appear on some deep diggers blog with the rest of their output (which mostly consists of singles) someday.

Walter Etc. – Always Leaving (Lauren Records 2016)

Walter Etc might sound familiar, and as the name suggests it’s a somewhat new but “parallel” project to Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra. As they said in their recent interview, this project is a fresh slate to experiment with a bigger sound that moves away from the folk-pop/folk-punk songs Dustin wrote for WMAHMO. However, it doesn’t stray to far from the familiar chordal strums, (forgive me for saying this but) makeshift drum kits, and personal lyrics that trade in relatable narrative, suburban dharma bum observations, and introspection.

The nostalgia and easygoing vibes are present as well, but the songs finally get more detailed orchestration that brings these recording to a new level WHAHMO never reached—despite the higher fidelity on Well Soon. Tasteful surf rock guitar licks and wide screen percussion finally fills out their sound to resemble the joyous celebration WMAHMO had in a live setting. It’s tough to pick a stand out track because this EP packs a punch, but “Boomer” takes the cake in terms of millenial ruminations on returning home and moving on through a tale of visiting a dying childhood pet.

The familiar folk punk strum returns for the final track “Always Leaving” and it may be what convinces the folks who didn’t like WMAHMO album production to give this a shot. It’s exciting to hear a band translate the energy of the live shows into recordings that don’t resemble a three or four piece band. Rather, these songs have atmosphere and production that brings in welcome new elements to Dustin’s songwriting. I look forward to more swelling cymbals, distorted kazoos, shimmering guitars, djembes, tambourines and ukuleles on their new album coming out later this year.

Alyx Poska | @_PacificNature