I recall reading in the liner notes to Bad Astronaut’s Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment, about this release --the last thing Derrick Plourde recorded before his death.
I’ve always liked Plourde’s drumming, but still wasn’t too sure if this was going to be good--or, more accurately, “up my alley.” I decided to check it out anyway and…it was good! Not in an “I didn’t really know what to expect, so I wasn’t expecting much” way. But in an “I didn’t know what to expect, so I wasn’t expecting much--but holy shit, this is really fucking good” way. It seems a shame that Plourde’s final recordings will not be more widely heard, but, equally, it seems a shame that these recordings--regardless of who played on them--aren’t more widely heard.
The band consisted of Sharky H. Towers, Joe Raposo and Plourde. Hailing from Santa Barbara, Calif., these guys are clearly influenced by their peers--sounding like a bit of a mix of Lagwagon, RKL, Mad Caddies and Sweet Action (with members from the former two bands). Maybe “influenced” isn’t the right word when your members were in the bands that your band sounds like, but their time in those groups and around that scene clearly left an impression on them.
Many of the songs sound like ‘90s skate punk, but with a bit of a more thrash-y, experimental edge. Towers’ vocals are catchy, but also have a bit of snarl to them. The album starts off with “Polarity” and the listener can instantly be reassured that Derrick’s final recordings weren’t phoned in. Towers' vocals soon come in, singing "I spent the last years of my life trying to forget about / Trying to forget what I did / Cut it / Kids in the '90s were so bored / Now it’s all just a bit carefully constructed, safe and innocent.” And with those lines, Towers says what Fat Mike attempt to say in “The Separation of Church and Skate” (and Propagandhi rebutted in “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism”), but with less shtick and a sense that the lines are coming from a place of genuine love for the music and the scene. Those lines might as well serve as a press release for what Jaws is all about--people that were a part of the '90s punk scene in California and just want to have fun again like they remember. “Small Games” follows up “Polarity” and continues the '90s-influenced punk. But, by song three, “Big Blue Easy,” we’re already getting into acoustic songs. However, it isn’t jarring or a negative aspect to the album and actually works well. A few songs later comes “Let It Ride.” This song is “the single.” It isn’t literally the single because there is no single, but it just has that sound; it is fun, catchy, and it is both fast enough and punk enough. After “Let It Ride,” we transition into the second half.
After the drums drop out of “Black Atmosphere” and come back in, we get “Fired At Me” which contains lines like "I’ve got a good view from here / I can see all the stones cast from one friend at another / Try to stay above the fray / Get called out on standing aside." We also get the extremely catchy, acoustic song “Elevator.” It may be my favorite song on the album even though it isn’t very representative of the album (and it is the shortest song, coming in at only one minute and 46 seconds). That’s the thing about this album, there are these punk songs mixed in with acoustic songs and it all works. It doesn’t feel like a bunch of songs thrown together, it sounds like an album by a band that just likes to switch it up.
Two songs later is another acoustic song but this one includes a cello. It is the Derrick Plourde tribute, “Laid Him Down” : "All the people we know still talk about the way that you left us all / You left us all / And we laid him down, in the waters of this hometown / I hope that now you can get some sleep." The whole song is really heartfelt, devastating, and beautiful.
The album has one final song on it, “Heavy Machinery.” The problem here is that there isn’t really any way to follow up “Laid Him Down.” It is the kind of song that you listen to and then sit alone with your thoughts for a moment when it is done. “Heavy Machinery” is a great example of Plourde’s drumming skills and, in its own way, it is poetic to put it at the end. After the album should be done, one more song to remind everyone that Plourde was a fantastic drummer. Unfortunately for “Heavy Machinery,” I just want to curl up in the fetal position after listening to “Laid Him Down,” not listen to another great song made out of love for music and each other.
“Polarity” and “Let It Ride” can be downloaded for free here.