If you know one thing about Brooklyn punk band the So So Glos, it’s that they’re good friends and frequent tourmates of Titus Andronicus, and if you know two things about them, it’s that they’re OGs in the Brooklyn DIY scene, having helped found venues like the Market Hotel and Shea Stadium. The Brooklyn DIY scene isn’t really much help in understanding how the So So Glos sound, though; the borough is currently home to roughly one billion bands, and they don’t exactly share any connecting threads. But even if you didn’t know anything about the band’s Titus connection, you’d probably reach for the comparison after hearing about 15 seconds of Blowout, the So So Glos’ sophomore album. They’ve got that same ragged throat-ripped roars, those serrated beer-punk guitars, those big dynamics that practically demand drunken singalongs. But they don’t have the scope and ambition that Titus showed even on their first album, before the Civil War came into the discussion. Their songs are content to be big, fast, fun anthems with nothing much to say about the greater outside universe beyond, like, “fuck smartphones.” They’re an alternate-universe Titus, a Titus that’s content to kick ass in small and specific ways. And as Blowout proves, that’s a pretty great thing to be.
Blowout opens with an ancient recording of the baby So So Glos arguing about Kurt Cobain’s death, and it ends with a sloppy falling-apart song that they probably recorded before any of them were 10. The guys in the band have been making music together practically since birth; they’re made up of one set of brothers, one stepbrother, and one childhood friend. And you get the sense, listening to Blowout, that these guys are always going to sound at least a little bit like 10-year-olds, the same way that when my brother and I get together at my parents’ house, no matter how old we get, we will eventually retire to the basement to play WWF No Mercy on the dusty Nintendo 64 and fume about how impossible it is to beat the Undertaker. The album is straight-up adrenalized punk rock, and it’s suffused with the all-out speed and sugary melody that draws kids to the genre in the first place, not the apocalyptic thinking and self-consciousness that keeps them interested later on. They keep each other young.
The members of the band are born and raised in Bay Ridge — they’re from Brooklyn in the Biggie sense, then, not the Grizzly Bear sense — but they sound like they came up over the river, in Titus’s New Jersey. All the hallmarks of Jersey punk are there: The ratcheted-up rhythmic simplicity, the beers-up choruses, the general disinterest in cross-genre experimentation. There’s a long, proud lineage there: The Misfits, Lifetime, the Bouncing Souls, the Gaslight Anthem. Both Titus and the So So Glos fit in there squarely. But if that sound seems limiting, Titus have already proven that it isn’t. And even if the So So Glos aren’t about to write a 15-minute breakup song, they still keep switching things restlessly, with force and energy. The Clash and the Replacements are obvious touchstones, but I hear echoes of tons of other bands in Blowout: Stiff Little Fingers, Operation Ivy, Big Star, Guided By Voices, Weezer. Some songs amount to intense, just-scraping-by power-pop. Others batter relentlessly. The mostly-instrumental rave-up of a title track, at one point, turns into straight-up ska-punk for a moment, and that moment, as it happens, is my favorite on the entire record. The band’s enthusiasm for completely uncool sounds, like ska-punk, is a beautiful and infectious thing — a willful and defiant disregard of the hip, coming from one of the stalwart bands in perhaps the world’s hippest DIY scene.
If you like, you can think of Blowout as an East Coast answer to the pretty-great self-titled album of hedonist Cali-punk revivialism from the L.A. band Fidlar. It’s got that same commitment to cheap thrills and overdriven tempos and shameless hooks. But if the Fidlar album seemed built to soundtrack skate videos, Blowout is more of an end unto itself, too cheap and scrappy and determined to come off sounding like mere lifestyle music. If you grew up listening to the same bands that the So So Glos did, there’s every chance that Blowout will strike some deep and satisfying chords for you. And even if you didn’t, there’s something to be learned here: Punk rock doesn’t have to pretend to be something other than punk rock, or to reach for the stars, to be great. The old model still has plenty of life left in it.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Laura Stevenson’s excellent punk-rock singer-songwriter record Wheel, which might’ve ended up as Album Of The Week if I’d spent a little more time with it.
• Phoenix’s anxious but gleaming Bankrupt!.
• Young Galaxy’s melodic and luminous sigh of an album Ultramarine.
• Junip’s pleasantly hushed, post-rocking self-titled sophomore LP.
• No Joy’s bleary but synthy Wait To Pleasure.
• Snoop Lion’s inexplicable reggae-makeover move Reincarnated.
• Grails side project Lilacs And Champagne’s dubby, psychedelic sophomore effort Danish & Blue.
• The Appleseed Cast’s uncharacteristically rough and serrated Illumination Ritual.
• Celestial Shore’s math-rock debut 10x.
• New Hampshire Freaks, a split EP from Quilt and MMOSS.
• Oberhofer’s Nostalgia EP.