Another week has rolled by and as summer slowly creeps up, literally skipping a season I feel haunted with images of death all around me. These dreams I have, these insane world we live in, have me looking over my shoulder every 5 minutes expecting death’s tap on my shoulder which I’d follow up with an elbow to the face and a push kick. For some reason I’m reminded of the myth of Hercules & Alcestis, wondering if there’s anyone that would attempt to wrestle me from death’s grip. These are the things that go through my mind from time to time for no apparent rhyme or reason, which is why I have the distraction that is music. Whether it’s good or bad, it puts me in a different mood.
Sometimes there’s a band like PWR BTTM that’s capable of putting you in different mood. In 2016 you couldn’t help but hear about the duo, who performed throughout the year and whose live shows were always considered epic performances. The duo released their debut long-player Ugly Cherries back in September of 2015 and finally release their second album Pageant (Polyvinyl Records). The album is rife with songs wrapped around catchy melodies and hooks, all the while keeping true to who they are. Members Liv Bruce and Bruce Hopkins have their respective instruments but aren’t against sharing those guitar, drums, and vocal duties. The album opener “Silly”, misleads listeners with that opening guitar line repeating itself having you think this could be some glam-metal episode until the band circles around into a full-frontal assault handling instruments like weapons piecing together an outrageous dynamic explosion. But then “Answer My Text” rolls through with vocals and a guitar leading the way before it shifts with a fuller sound as other instruments are added. I’m willing to address the elephant in the room only because for me it’s only 8 inches tall. PWR BTTM may consider itself a “queer punk duo,” and it’s an easy tag for those quick to place the band under the heading of just another sub-genre but if I’m going to be real here, it just doesn’t matter. The band’s sweet lyricism revolves around love, the butterflies you feel at the bottom of your belly, heartbreak, and just a sheer joyful abandon. When the band sings “Answer my text you dick” over a cheerful melody, they’re cleverly confronting everyday courting issues with humor.
The more laid back “LOL” has a vocal delivery which I can’t help but draw a comparison to Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren, holding those high notes you probably wouldn’t imagine. “Now Now” follows suit there as well. When you hear “I’m gonna beat myself up…” for the first time you might just hear it as well. The band is just as clever with its lyricism though, “I’m going to beat myself up for beating myself up / I’m going to take my lunch money for beating myself up.” The upbeat track cunningly juxtaposes the lyrics with its music. There’s a playful side to the band which is obviously bound at the proverbial hip with a serious one. “Kid’s Table” deals with that awkward stage between childhood and being an adult while “Oh Boy,” probably one of my favorite tracks, again deals with love. Did I say ‘my favorite’? I may have to retract that because the incendiary “Big Beautiful Day” has me dancing and jumping around like 12 year old. Again. And again. And again. PWR BTTM’s Pageant is a thoughtful release. They’ve avoided the sophomore slump, but for them it seems that was an easy task to accomplish.
From one duo to another, this time around we have Girlpool, a self described folk punk band from L.A. While the members Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad eschewed drums on its previous release (from what I’ve listened to) on their new album Powerplant,(Anti-), they’ve come to embrace it within the folds of this release. But percussion is not what they’re all about though, it’s the relentless harmonies between these two musicians that cut through every single track here. While what Girlpool can keep this listener’s attention, I can’t help but think if they’re haunted by those that came before them. Semblances of another L.A. band That Dog comes to mind. While they were big on rocking things out, Anna Waronker and the Haden girls were also big on the harmonies when they fit well. Not that this is a direct comparison, but it’s more of an observation. And you could recognize what may sound Lush(ful) not unlike Miki Berenyi’s vocal delivery. But regardless, on Powerplant, the band does have the songs. The sultriness of the opening “123” starts the song off before the belt out into mid-tempo summer night’s dream here. But it’s “Sleepless” that gives you the sugary sweetness of their voices, cutting through headphones or speakers that will leave you in a haze.
There’s no double-guessing what this band is doing here as they attempt to lure you in with beautiful melodies and harmonies, and their lyrics probably wouldn’t matter to the casual listener. I can’t help but think that on “It Gets More Blue” they use their voices as additional instruments the way most don’t. Singing along with instruments giving more emphasis on melody and notes. Powerplant may not change the world but it’s a welcomed reprieve from so much within it.