Most people know Johnny Bonnel, Spike Slawson, and Darius Koski from their time spent in punk band Swingin’ Utters, but Filthy Thieving Bastards mark quite a departure from those anthemic punk tunes. Instead of the loud, brash approach that the Utters take, this side project impresses with variety. Koski is a classically trained musician, and it shows with the incredible range of instruments that he plays on My Pappy Was A Pistol.
The organ, viola, violin, and accordion are handled by Koski, as well as his normal guitar and vocal duties, and everything is pulled off with ease. Not content with only those four instruments, however, the band (also including Randy Burk on drums) implements a mandolin, tin whistle, baritone guitar, and a piano. What results is a folksy punk album full of spirit and country twang.
The driving rhythms and perfectly suited vocals sound tight no matter the tempo, even with the random alternations of Darius and Johnny singing. Both have the ability to fit the sound only as they need to, not overextending themselves, but in a way that really gravitates a listener toward these simple songs. That’s the beauty of the album, though, what seems simple on the outside is actually fairly complex after repeated listens. There’s almost always background singing that have to accent the main vocals, without coming on too strong, and without taking anything away from what’s going on underneath the surface. “The Back of His Hand” is a rousing track that implements the tin whistle and mandolin to a level of absolute perfection, with guitars that have a certain country feel as it is. Everything feels so vibrant and alive, like there’s a tiny piper on your shoulder and a room full of people dancing right behind you.
Slower songs on the album have just as much to offer, though, as “Mikey Needs to Love” perfectly exhibits. There’s beauty in simplicity here, with song focusing mainly on the story that the lyrics are telling, rather than vocals or instrumentation as had previously been the case. And when you do actually listen to these stories, you realize how truly silly that some of them are, and how even more perfectly fitting that is for the kind of sound this band is about. One of the songs that defies their own conventions is the beautiful album closer, “Bad Afternoon Sun,” which deals with topics of drug and alcohol dependency, with the especially poignant sounds of the violin in the background while Koski sings "I’ll never be constant or stable, I’ll never be confidently able / There’s only so much I can do, I’d love to split myself in two / Pour yourself to bed, drink yourself to sleep / Drug yourself to dream, you won’t remember anyway."
This album is worth owning on merits of that song alone, but the rest of these folksy tunes will keep you coming back time and time again.