God bless the Swingin’ Utters and all the ten-thousand branches of their musical family tree. The level of consistent quality not only ensures a worthwhile purchase, but effectively renders obsolete any excuses or attempts to justify illegal downloading “just to make sure it’s good.” Because whenever Swingin’ Utters-related music comes out, you know damn well it’s gonna be good.
Long-time Utters frontman Johnny Bonnel also fronts Druglords of the Avenues, the Northern California ensemble that self-released their debut and nearly watched it sell out before Red Scare Industries came to the rescue, bringing Sing Songs wider distribution and the attention it deserves while preserving the enthralling artwork done by Bonnel himself.
Backed by members of Knuckle Up, Moonshine, Butterface and Hot Heresy, Druglords of the Avenues represents the complete other side of the spectrum from Bonnel’s Filthy Thieving Bastards whereas Swingin’ Utters meets halfway between. That is to say that if there was a Venn Diagram for visual aid, Filthy Thieving Bastards would be the right circle with their blend of mostly punked-up country and folk, Swingin’ Utters would be in the middle blending country, folk, ska and street punk amongst other styles, and Druglords of the Avenues would be on the far left spitting out nothing but raw, unadulterated street punk.
But it’s still classy, mind you. Bonnel has one of the most articulate mouths in punk, and doesn’t shy away from esoterically poetic storytelling even while howling out to grubby, working-class jams. Arcane opener “Me Decided” sounds like a cross between the whimsical tirades of a salty seafarer and graphic sexual accounts told through quasi-colloquial innuendo: “Me feel so strongly that me gave inside your cave / Be still so calmly catch me make upside your cake / Me chill salami watch me wait outside your gate / Me saw a vessel that me rode inside a cove / Me draw a pistol that me tote inside me coat / Me was a fistful watch me float inside your boat." The song is catchy and upbeat, as are those surrounding it and at its opposite end, rounding out the album with a fantastic hidden cover of an influential Twin Cities punk band and “So Called Druglords,” which finds Bonnel pitching a suggestion to “listen to Crimpshrine.” “He Loves” follows “Me Decided,” anchored with a pleasant guitar hook that makes the verses more memorable than the chorus.
The artist-track “Druglords of the Avenues” is the album’s catchiest but nearly ruined by a perfunctory throng of “Hey!”s that sounds like a tiny, miniature Oi!-boy being pounded over the head with a rubber mallet. It eventually becomes tolerable, and perhaps even welcomed, but not without some getting used to. The fourth track “Stalling Breed” is the temporary finale of the record’s more pop-oriented tunes as a harder-edged street punk style emerges for dominion of the interior. “What Is Good,” “So Mixed Up” and the ruthlessly a-melodic “Search Again” are straightforward lyrically and musically, and provide a better soundtrack for slapping a heavy bag than singing in the shower.
Sing Songs is punk’s perfect paradox; the debut of this veteran assembly is artistic and utilitarian, witty and forthright, of poetry and prose. Whether expressed through a capricious chorus or an uninhibited yell, Druglords of the Avenues tell their stories with sophistication and zeal and the salivary projection of a street punk band armed with the aptitude to match.