Accurately self–described as not–so–west–coast skate punk, Minor Decline's definitive and intense style of melodic punk rock sounds reminiscent of the legendary '80s and '90s California scene, yet they hail from Galesburg, IL (not really that close to Chicago). Their debut album, The Front Nine, is a loud, energetic, straightforward mission statement of being punk in a midwestern town full of hippies and rednecks. Since the band's start in 2009, lead guitarist and vocalist Jake Thomas and bassist Breck Bennett have been the only consistent members through frequent personnel changes –– but despite such setbacks, Minor Decline remains a true DIY band determined to be heard.
The Front Nine is a direct outline of punk lifestyle and attitude –– from calling out posers to critiquing the government and financial system and with a few fuck–it–all outbursts, the album listens as if it's already one step ahead of you, because it is. Thomas and Bennett's musicianship creates a complexity of songwriting that showcase their various punk/hardcore influences, like Black Flag, NOFX, D.I. and the Bouncing Souls, to name a few. Their ability to play together tightly through tempo changes one song after another, even on the album's instrumental title track, keeps the album's momentum up at a level unmatched by their peers.
Thomas keeps control of this electric centrifuge, using the similarity of his sound to punk veterans to declare his own formula of melodic punk songwriting. His raw, aggressive delivery of lyrics describing youth (and the yearning for it once it's been lost) expresses clearly his anger towards the fucked up society he is forced to grow up in. The Front Nine's opening song, "Puke Parade," features Thomas spewing out grievances so quickly all he can finish with is a loud and clear "the world has gone to shit," while in "Jay, LA," a teenage girl's impulsive decisions come back to haunt her even when "everything seems as clear as piss."
But along with covering some heavy topics, Minor Decline shows they have fun, too. "I.F.Y.M." is a minute–long party anthem beginning with Thomas whipping out a comical '80s–hair–band–style scream –– and goes on to berate his audience for probably dropping out of school and yet still staying sober. And "40 0z. Adolescent" is four minutes of violent, in–your–face punk of getting wasted on Olde English forties and listening to records like Adolescents and I Don't Want To Grow Up.
At the foundation of this formula, of course, is the music. Bennett's animated bass lines fuel the band's energy because of their power to seamlessly support the guitar and drums while spreading out to farther notes to create their own unique circular rhythms, that often comically get the last note in at the end of a song. "Huff, Puff, Heave" exemplifies this explosiveness of the band, as each instrument splinters away in their own fiery melody from their time of detonation, skillfully coming back to the beginning with even more strength and spirit. The song also features vocals from Sammy Gunz, a fellow member of Minor Decline's punk scene, as the band maintains the standard (laid down by the bands whose music they emulate) of supporting their community, seeing through the bullshit trends and focusing on the music.
The Front Nine closes with "Days of the Weak," a biting look into the stark hopelessness and drug–abusing tendencies of the unemployed in a failing economy –– "like the Great Depression, with more coke" –– as leaders continue to make vague, unkeepable promises. Clocking in at just under five minutes, with four distinct parts, it is the band's most intriguing, complex effort –– demonstrating their stamina and comfort with changing from catchy punk riffs to hardcore breakdowns. And just when you thought they might be taking themselves too seriously –– they end it all with the classic "Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits" couplet. This ability to have a sense of humor alongside intelligence and awareness not only creates variety to their songs, but adds depth and dimension to the band as a whole –– as if it was comprised of real human beings.
The Front Nine is a genuine punk rock record –– a much–needed continuation of the melodic style of decades past. Pairs well with cheap beer; best when played loud.