Anyone thinking that after getting off heroin and becoming a bit more upbeat, Pat "the Bunny" Schneeweis would write feel-good summer jams was both wrong and foolish. Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? begins with a trigger warning, then launches into a spiky industrial-folk jam that underpins a woman detailing her experience of being raped. This has to the most harrowing disc he's been involved with yet.
A lot has changed in the band, for instance the lyrical style. The simplicity of Pat's lyrics is ever-present, as is the mixture of the personal and the political, but there's a touch more abstract imagery, like the title track's mention of "a beardful of mace" and what to do "when the cops move in"; not to say Ramshackle Glory have started peddling vagaries, however. The terror in Pat's voice, absent from the more mellow, folky Live the Dream, is back in a big way: he sounds like he's spent two weeks in a haunted house. It gives these lyrics, strange or normal, a huge amount of force (like when he screams "they'll tell you about the man that I really am!" in the track's culmination).
Some of these lyrics are the most downbeat Pat's put to paper. For example: "I don't work for justice I don't give a shit / I'm just trying to walk on down the street to where I live / My life is chaos and all of my friends are gone / but I've never been the type to keep in touch with anyone." But though the atmosphere of the album is largely paranoid, frightened and depressed with none of the old Wingnut humour, the album ends with two smart and upbeat political songs and "Last Song," which takes a more optimistic view of the future and draws comparisons with the old(ish) Pat song "My Idea of Fun."
Easy as it is to talk about Pat and his marvelous lyrics, pretty much everyone from Jeff-Face to Niki Berger to the man himself must be pissed that it's all anyone does. This has to be the most band-based release Schneeweis has involved himself in so far, and the music is something special, much more than just a basis for good words.
The group describe themselves as post-folk-punk and that tag works surprisingly well. There's a seven piece line-up playing "all the wrong instruments" including the accordion, trumpet and cello, but rather than turning to folk tradition the band play in this intense, very live, jagged way, creating frightening riffs and rhythms with people jumping in to solo. The angularity and builds in intensity are not unlike those of Wire and Gang of Four, but the instruments involved keep the music far from sounding like said bands. A case in point is the title track - Niki's accordion plays this stabbing vamp, Douglas Fur shreds on the banjo, Johnny Freedom's trumpet blares menacingly, and Luke hits a simple, clicking drum beat over which Pat sings.
Elsewhere, there's a wonderfully low-key tune based around what sounds like muffled, distorted piano ("The Club Hits of Today will be the Show Tunes of Tomorrow"), which breaks into the manic bluegrass of the wonderfully titled "Fuck Everything." From there on in, the album is made up of ecstatic rather than unsettling full-band efforts, with the glorious "Last Song" marking the end of the album. Capable of making this reviewer smile and choke up a bit, it's a bit of a classic.
My problem with this album is the spoken word interludes. Though they make the album an interesting listen when taken all at once and contain some interesting content, they make listening to the individual songs a little awkward as they're mixed into the same tracks; even if I probably should just get off my arse and use the skip button, it's hampered my enjoyment and digestion of the album somewhat as a result. It'll also probably make the album a difficult listen for rape victims, and others who may react badly to the things discussed. Although, you can't hear what's being said throughout a lot of them; perhaps the interludes were made more for atmosphere than education?
Still, this is excellent stuff. Pat's always been the best, in my opinion, at chronicling self-hate and isolation, and he's now with a band whose music brings home the true horror of feeling fucking horrendous. If you like the sound of that, or indeed of any kind of folk-punk then give this a shot.