Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Bacchae Next Time

Get Better Records
Get Better Records

The history of DIY punk rock in Washington, DC spans something like 45 years. In that time, DC punk has nurtured all sorts of vocalists: growlers, howlers, barkers, snarkers, whiners, moaners, yappers, zappers, preachers, screechers, gurglers, motormouths, dreamy waifs, deadpan wraiths, mock-operatic divas, whatever you want to call Ian Svenonius. For the life of me, however, I cannot remember a DC punk singer who delivers lyrics with Broadway-style flair. I’m not talking about the Broadway of generations past; I bet Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren could’ve found a place there. I’m talking about recent Broadway — the precise, crystalline, self-aware diction that seems to thrive in movie-adaptation musicals like Mean Girls or Heathers. If you threw Ian MacKaye or HR or Mary Timony or Travis Morrison or Jael Holzman into one of those shows, bad things would happen. But Katie McD would be right at home.

Katie McD, singer and keyboardist for Bacchae, has a tone so clear that it’s almost disorienting. McD started making music with Bacchae guitarist Andrew Breiner and drummer Eileen O’Grady for a friend’s show at the Capital Fringe Festival, a local institution, and singer/bassist Rena Hagins joined soon afterward. Bacchae released their debut album Down The Drain in 2017. From the very beginning, Bacchae stood out. Their songs were brighter, zippier, and more instantly accessible than those of their peers. You could hear echoes of past generations of DC punk and the city’s adjacent indie-pop scene, bands like Velocity Girl and Tuscadero. But Bacchae were just as interested in ’80s new wave, and they brought an oddly wholesome energy even when their songs were about being miserable.

Years on, Bacchae still sound bright and sunny, and Katie McD’s voice is clearer and sharper than it’s ever been. Next Time, the band’s third LP, is darker and heavier than past records. Its lyrics paint a bleak picture of a late-capitalist society where human beings are only valued as fuel for a machine that must never stop. In a lot of ways, Next Time works in conversation with something like Ekko Astral’s pink balloons, another great DC punk album that came out this year. But even at their starkest and angriest, Bacchae remain lively and catchy and engaging, and they still center that one big voice that doesn’t sound quite like anything else in its orbit.

Bacchae recorded Next Time with Jawbox/Burning Airlines leader J. Robbins, who’s become a kind of mid-Atlantic Albini in recent years. Robbins also produced Bacchae’s 2020 LP Pleasure Vision, and there’s a real connection between the guttural churn of a track like “Try” and the angular post-hardcore that Robbins made in the ’90s. Robbins is especially good at recording bassists, and Rena Hagins’ cold, unhurried basslines stalk through these songs with supreme authority. If you’re looking for tough, incendiary music, Next Time qualifies. But most tough, incendiary music doesn’t have hooks like these.

There’s no joy in Bacchae’s Next Time lyrics. Katie McD and Rena Hagins sing about day jobs as vampiric institutions that don’t care how miserable they make you: “We give them the best parts of our days/ They treat us like dogs in a comfortable cage!” When they get home from those jobs, they sink into numb, screen-addled stasis: “Watching gore on television/ I don’t see the sadness in it/ I don’t feel a thing, I scroll/ Perpetually stoned, alone.” Prescription pills and social-media addictions entrench them further in an irreparably fucked system, and nobody seems to know a way out of it. Perhaps the maddening-routine machine that they describe strikes a chord with you. It definitely sounds uncomfortably familiar to me.

But the mere existence of Next Time flies in the face of the system that Bacchae describe. On the playfully funky “Just A Rat,” Bacchae compare themselves to the rodents that always seem more at home than the human beings in DC. (DC rats are the size of labradors. If you’ve ever seen them, you know that it’s their city, that humans are merely guests.) The analogy is clear: If you live on the edges of society, then society would love to eradicate you, but the creatures that live in the shadows are more resilient than the authorities that want to get rid of them. The sheer glee McD’s voice, the way she sinks her teeth into those choruses, shows a strength that can’t be overcome. So do the riffs and melodies and shout-along choruses.

Next Time is an album about the pernicious power of capitalism, but some of its strongest songs are about matters of the heart that exist outside of all that. On “New Jersey,” McD jumps on the first bus out of town to get away from someone who wasn’t who they pretended to be. On “Feeling The Same,” the voice inside her head almost prevents her from enjoying the miracle of mutual attraction. Bacchae are not an emo band — not even close — but songs like that speak to some pretty universal feelings. Whether Bacchae’s lyrics describe the personal, the political, or some combination thereof, they always sound great. The bass struts, the keyboards bleat, and Katie McD sings to the back of the room in the kind of voice that sounds almost alien coming from a band like this. After all these decades, DC punk can still surprise you.

Next Time is out 7/5 on Get Better Records.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Zach Bryan’s The Great American Bar Scene
• Melvins & Boris’ Twins Of Evil
• 42 Dugg’s 4Eva Us, Neva Them
• Krallice’s Inorganic Rites
• Kasabian’s Happenings
• Porcupine’s All Is Vapor
• Rhinestone Pickup Truck’s Self Deprecation At Hourly Rates
• Octoploid’s Beyond The Aeons
• Kiasmos’ II
• Fire-Toolz’ Breeze
• HNNY’s Light Shines Through
• Subdued’s Abattoir
• Lesser Halves’ The Gold, The Rush, The Rot, The Rust
• Art Brut’s A Record Collection, Reduced To A Mixtape & And Yes, This Is My Singing Voice!
• The Streets’ fabric presents The Streets mix
• Machine Gun Kelly’s Hotel Diablo: floor 13 edition
• Rose Gerber’s Untraveled Highway EP
• Tendertwin’s Ship Argo EP
• oreglo’s Not Real People EP
• Julia Gaeta’s Blur Divine EP
• Sumac’s The Keeper’s Tongue remix EP

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