The three years that separate Oh! Calcutta!, the 2006 Lawrence Arms full-length, and Buttsweat and Tears, the band’s new seven-inch, shouldn’t feel like a huge gap. First of all, it has only been three got-dammed years. Plus, fans were treated to side projects the Falcon and Sundowner during the interim. And yet...and yet....the last time we heard from this Chicago three-piece, George W. Bush was president. The housing market hadn’t gone to crap. The seminal film The Marine starring John Cena was still months away from hitting theaters. The world as I understand it now did not exist. That lends a slight air of nostalgia in spinning this, a five-song EP whose name and cover are perfectly matched.
But nostalgia only goes so far. So yeah, it’s cool to hear Buttsweat pick right up where Calcutta left off. Fans still get Chicago punk at its best. Co-vocalists Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan are trading the mic a little more this time around (although still not as much as on The Greatest Story Ever Told, a record that lives up to its title). The guitars are crunchy, although the band does incorporate the occasional country/folk influence, like on the comparatively soft closer “The Redness in the West.” Oh yeah, and every song is totally awesome.
See, the Larry Arms write fast songs about getting drunk, juxtaposing high concepts (sadness, the changing of the seasons, existentialism) with low art (Saturday Night Live, Half Baked). They've been doing it well for 10 years now, and they do it well here. “Spit Shining Shit” kicks off the vinyl, and it’s clear that the Larry Arms are still one of the best punk bands around. It’s a thrilling three-minute burst about small-minded people and the need to get away from them, opening with guitar and vox before drummer Neil “Tennessee” Hennessey brings the rock. Improbably, followup “The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City” is even better. This time the guitar intro is snarling. The topic is in the title, and McCaughin’s lyrics effortlessly flow from him, bouncing off rhymes and scene description like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Lines like “I walk through the snow to a bar where there’s no one I know / Drink slow, drink slow with nowhere to go / And when I leave I’ll be singing this song / Summer’s gone / Carry on / I’m a ghost in the dawn” astound time and again.
“Them Angels Been Talkin’” hits on the flipside and it’s another rocker. Those who buy the digital version are then treated to a bonus track, “Demons,” although everyone and their mommas can get up ons this beauty via Spin.com. The fact that it’s free makes it even more of a must-hear -- and makes me wonder how many more songs TLA has in storage. Can we score a full-length, please? But first I need to talk up “The Redness in the West.” It starts out somber, with Kelly talking again about feeling worn down and wasted before turning into a self-help mantra: "We’re gonna fuck ’em all when we get there.”
If there’s a complaint to be had with Buttsweat and Tears, it’s that it’s over too soon. It’s been three years and I could use 10, 20, even 30 new tunes. But that’s the beauty of the seven-inch; it’s a perfect salvo. Besides, it makes it easier to back up and put on “Slowest Drink” again. Welcome back, boys. It’s been a while.