The history of one-person pop-punk bands is not exactly a long and storied one. I’m sure I’m missing some, but I can think of exactly one previous example: Adam Goren, a high-school chemistry teacher from Philadelphia who spent about a decade recording and touring as Atom And His Package. The Package was a cheap, bloopy electronic kit, and Goren would use it to back him up as he sang nasal-clever songs about whatever. And he did this in a full-on punk rock context. It was a trip. He’d pull up to your local community center, playing halfway up the bill at a six-band hardcore matinee and singing songs with titles like “If You Own The Washington Redskins, You’re A Cock” for crowds of teenagers who just wanted to spinkick each other. (Somehow, I saw Goren live five or six times in college. He’d hit the Syracuse area at least a couple of times a year.) For Goren, the whole enterprise was equal parts sincere and silly, and it’s a miracle that he kept it going for as long as he did. But now Goren has company. Lisa Prank, from Seattle, is carrying the flame for one-person pop-punk bands, and she’s doing it beautifully.
Based on the punny name, you’d expect Lisa Prank, whose real name is Robin Edwards, to be just as much of a novelty act as Goren. She’s actually the opposite. The setup is the same; Edwards plays live with a guitar, a drum machine, and no other human beings. And she’s not averse to lyrical cleverness. The rickety home-recording setup is just as catchily tinny as what Goren was doing. But she’s much less about schtick and much more about exploring messy relationships and romantic miscommunications. There’s a fair amount of Waxahatchee in what she does, though it’s filtered through a childhood immersed in the arena pop-punk of the late ’90s. (She covers Blink-182’s “Dammit” live.) And there’s a young, fucked-up romanticism to what she’s singing: “When I’m not falling, I am looking for a ledge / And then you kiss me, and I’m jumping in your bed.”
Edwards’ great influences might be bands like New Found Glory and Jimmy Eat World, but in what she does, I hear something slightly older: The raw-nerve pop-punk of mid-’90s Lookout! Records bands, the Mr. T Experience chief among them. Like those bands, Edwards is quick to make a self-effacing lyrical joke, the type that takes someone else down with her: “I stick my tongue in your mouth to keep your words from coming out.” Like them, she has an endlessly sharp sense of melody that shines through even though her whole recording setup is pretty rudimentary. And as with those bands, her real greatest weapon is a sense of vulnerability that shows through when you might not be expecting it. “You say you’re not still drinking / You just started again,” she sings on “Starting Again,” the first track on her new Adult Teen album, and she stretches “again” out to maybe eight syllables, hiccuping over the second half of the word and wringing all the heartbreak out of it. And then: “I swear I don’t still miss you / I just started again.” When it hits you the right way, it’s heavy stuff.
Edwards started the Lisa Prank project at home in Denver, and then she moved to Seattle at the urging of the band Tacocat when she realized she didn’t have much else going on. These days, she lives in a Seattle punk house with a couple of members of Tacocat, and that band’s Eric Randall produced Adult Teen. It’s a cheap, shiny record, but it’s much more cleaned-up and listenable than Crush On The World, the hissy, scrappy lo-fi cassette EP that she released two years ago. (A couple of Crush On The World songs show up, rerecorded, on Adult Teen.) With the sharper production, Edwards’ lyrics and melodies get to glow, and a relatively mellow jangle like “Turn It Up” takes on a resonance that reminds me of prime Beat Happening.
This is still a scrappy, home-recorded take on pop-punk music, but the songs and the hooks and the feelings are all very much there. Part of me hopes that, next time around, Edwards finds herself out in front of a full-on band, so maybe the drums won’t sound so dinky and maybe the songs will get a chance to sound as huge as I know they can. But it’s also cool to hear someone bringing the one-person pop-punk band forward into a new decade and doing it in an entirely non-gimmicky way. If Adam Goren ever hears it, I hope he’s proud.
Other albums of note out this week:
• DJ Shadow’s all-over-the-map return The Mountain Will Fall.
• Mikey Erg’s snotty pop-punk reunion Tentative Decisions.
• Riff Raff’s goofy party-rap LP Peach Panther.
• River Tiber’s chilled-out, R&B-influenced Indigo.
• Alice Bag’s self-titled ancestral punker.
• High Water’s Nicolas Jaar-produced LP Crush.
• Deerhoof’s giddy, skronky The Magic.
• Puro Instinct’s hazily melodic indie-popper Autodrama.
• RLYR’s instrumental post-rock debut Delayer.
• Oh Pep!’s giddy weird-pop LP Stadium Cake.
• Dentist’s precise, math-rocking Ceilings.
• Cassius’ bright, guest-heavy dance comeback Ibifornia.
• Sonnyjim’s globally concerned rap album Blood In My Malbec.
• Neil Young’s live concept album Earth.
• Lil Durk’s Chicago drill zone-out Lil Durk 2X.
• Kayo Dot’s post-metal churn Plastic House On Base Of Sky.
• Colder’s twin gloomy electronic albums Goodbye and The Rain.
• Less Win’s experimental postpunk debut TRUST.
• Forteresse’s atmospheric black metaller Thèmes Pour La Rébellion.
• Internal Suffering’s technical black/death metaller Cyclonic Void Of Power.
• CB Murdoc’s experimental death metaller Here Be Dragons.
• Hot Hot Heat’s self-titled goodbye album.
• The Silver Lake Chorus’ The Silver Lake Chorus Remixes collection.
• Papertwin’s Vacation EP.
• Ta-ku & Wafia’s (m)edian EP.