The best new movie I’ve seen this year is Green Room, the grim and grimy indie siege movie that pits a touring DIY hardcore band (called the Ain’t Rights) against a small army of bloodthirsty right-wing skinheads (and their pitbulls). When the movie comes to a boil, it’s some of the tensest, most cathartic filmmaking I’ve seen in recent years. But the early scenes of the movie are, in their own way, just as memorable. In the movie’s first shot, the members of the band all stir awake in the middle of a sun-dappled cornfield. It’s where their van has fortuitously ended up after the drummer fell asleep at the wheel. For the next 40-or-so minutes, the band endures every manner of indignity. They siphon gas to get to the next town. They soldier through an awkward college-radio interview with a dorked-out host. They show up in a new town and find out there’s no show. They play to a disinterested lunchtime crowd at some middle-of-nowhere restaurant. They face the sad reality that their life as a band is just not economically viable — that they’ll all have to go back to Arlington and try to hold down regular jobs. And yet, the whole thing looks terribly romantic. The Ain’t Rights are facing all these obstacles together. It’s them against the world.
All that might just be bullshit, at least if PUP have anything to say about it. The Toronto punk band open their second album, The Dream Is Over, with “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” a portrait of punk rock van life that’s darker and nastier than any I’ve heard — at least in song. These guys are waking up on the same living-room floors for months on end, hearing each other tell the same jokes over and over again, wearing on each other’s last nerves. And it’s gotten to the point where every new van haul feels like a prison sentence. “Everything you do makes me wanna vomit / If this tour doesn’t kill you, buddy, I’m on it,” frontman Stefan Babcock hollers. And then: “You think you’re so original / I can’t wait for your funeral!”
If you’ve ever been in a touring band, or been friends with someone who is, then some of this might ring true. I’ve never done it myself, but based on what I’ve heard, this shit is, at least some of the time, not fun. It sounds fun — packing all your shit in a van with your friends, leaving your life behind for a few weeks, playing loud music for strangers, seeing the world. But every dream job eventually becomes a job, and this one happens to be a low-paying, transit-heavy, privacy-annihilating dream job. If you talk to enough people in bands, and if they’re willing to puncture your romantic image, you might learn that — for instance — going to Europe sucks because nobody has good weed and because you’re always dealing with customs people. That’s the pent-up frustration you can hear in “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You” — a supposedly fun thing, rendered in unflinching emotional real talk.
And yet the way PUP play the song, it still sounds fun. PUP have levels of on-record energy that I’m just not used to hearing in 2016 — from a punk band or from any other sort of band. They play with a rocketing urgency, charging headlong into every chorus with guns blazing. They’re unapologetic disciples of the whole EpiFat sound — the ’90s variation on melodic California pop-punk that briefly conquered the world. And they play it like it’s new, that combination of all-out speed and sugary melody and snot-rocket sarcasm. Babcock’s voice is a passionate nasal harangue, and every time they get the chance, his bandmates join in on some gang-shout singalong shit. They’ve also learned from emo and post-hardcore and fuzzed-up revivalist Japandroids-style indie rock, with all these chords crashing and dynamics switching up in profoundly satisfying ways. The Dream Is Over is a short album, just a hair over half an hour, and it never lets up. That’s good. It shouldn’t.
But while the music is hurtling along, Babcock is putting all his energy into making twentysomething life sound like a living hell. “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You” is the only song that explicitly addresses the day-to-day realities of being in a band, but the rest of the album is all about that stage of life, how much it can fucking suck. When you get past that time, it takes on a rosy glow, but when you’re in it, the puke-sticky floors and day-long hangovers and warning-your-account-has-dipped-below-$25 emails seem like they’re never going to end. Again and again, Babcock sings about himself as a drunk loser who can’t keep a relationship together — partly, at least, because so many of his relationships are with other drunk losers. “I’m sick and tired of blacking out on my carpet / And waking up all alone / So I brought you home,” he wails. Then, later: “I can’t stand you trying to save me / It’s so fucking frustrating.” And nothing drives him more nuts than the people who express concern over his wellbeing, to the point where his most self-deprecating line almost registers as a gloat: “They used to say, ‘Don’t quit your day job!’ / Guess what? I never had one!”
Before the band recorded the album, Babcock went to see a doctor because his throat was hurting. The doctor told him his vocal cords were damaged and that he’d have to stop singing. That’s where the title came from; the doctor actually told him, verbatim, “The dream is over.” Babcock, of course, decided that no, fuck that. If anything, he’s yelling even louder on The Dream Is Over than he was on PUP’s 2013 debut. But you get the sense, listening to the album, that this whole thing could end anytime. His voice could just give out on him completely, and he knows it. So he’s packed all his angst and anxiety into one furiously fun 31-minute album, knowing that it could well be his last. And more than any rock album I’ve heard in a long minute, he sounds like he’s saying things that he absolutely needed to say. Sometimes, you see, your own body and your own friends can seem as malicious as a pack of machete-wielding white-nationalist skinheads. And sometimes, you just have to yell about it.
Other albums of note out this week:
• The Hotelier’s huge, searching Goodness.
• Flume’s guest-heavy arena-blooper Skin.
• Hardcore supergroup Hesitation Wounds’ unstable attack Awake For Everything.
• Dum Dum Girls side project Kristin Kontrol’s new-wave experiment X-Communicate.
• Beth Orton’s psychedelic, dance-damaged Kidsticks.
• Holy Fuck’s zoned-out festival-rocker Congrats.
• Joey Purp’s Chicago rap exhibition iiiDrops.
• Olga Bell’s club-pop experiment Tempo.
• Maria Usbeck’s textured mood piece Amparo.
• Lone’s glitchy, spacey Levitate.
• Robert Glasper’s collab-heavy Miles Davis tribute Everything’s Beautiful.
• Yumi Zouma’s dreamy synthpop debut Yoncalla.
• Withered’s grimy metal ripper Grief Relic.
• Sonny & The Sunsets’ tUnE-yArDs-produced Moods Baby Moods.
• Gold Panda’s dazed head-nodder Good Luck And Do Your Best.
• Scroll Downers’ heavy psych burner Hot Winter.
• Swanning’s DIY debut Drawing Down the Moon.
• BOYFRNDZ’ noisy, euphoric Impulse.
• Behexen’s blurry black metal attack The Poisonous Path.
• Mista F.A.B.’s collab-heavy Son Of A Pimp Part 2.
• Pond frontman Nicholas Allbrook’s bugged-out, psychedelic solo affair Pure Gardiya.
• The Monkees’ power-pop comeback attempt Good Times.
• Summer Cannibals’ blistering punker Full Of It.
• Psychic Heat’s fuzzed-out debut Sunshower.
• Sega Genocide’s loud, hooky debut TRYS.
• Cross-continental rock supergroup D.A.R.K.’s brooding Science Agrees.
• Clique’s spazzy, lo-fi Burden Piece.
• Megafauna’s proto-metal head trip Welcome Home.
• Mark Kozelek’s who-asked-for-this covers collection Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites.
• Jarvis Cocker’s Likely Stories EP.
• Fujiya & Miyagi’s EP1 EP.
• Brenda’s Friend’s House Down EP.
• 50 Foot Wave’s Bath White EP.
• Jason Nolan’s Wonder Years EP.