Dead To Me - Moscow Penny Ante (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Dead To Me

Moscow Penny Ante (2011)

Fat Wreck Chords

It's time to stop worrying about personnel changes and just learn to trust Dead to Me. Over the course of seven members, three full-lengths, a couple EPs and a split 7-inch or two, the sometimes-quartet, sometimes-power trio has never managed to write a bad song. Their latest offering, Moscow Penny Ante, marks the debut of the band's latest lineup, featuring Sam Johnson (New Mexican Disaster Squad, VRGNS) on guitar and vocals, as well as Ken Yamazaki (Western Addiction, Enemy You) on second guitar. The record displays something of a "back to basics" approach after the (awesome) genre-hopping of 2009's African Elephants. Moscow Penny Ante could be seen a step backwards by some, but it's a step backwards in the best possible way.

The record starts off with a bang in what is probably the fastest song of the band's career, "Undertow." The speedy upstrokes in the track's verses are the only traces left of the ska-punk the band experimented with on African Elephants, and arguably their finest hour, 2008's Little Brother EP. Moscow Penny Ante is a straightforward punk rock record through and through.

Johnson makes his presence known early on in the album's second track, "Reckless Behavior." The vocal style he brings to the table in Dead to Me is almost completely unrecognizable from his previous bands. He actually sounds a fair bit like his predecessor in Dead to Me, Nathan Grice, here, most notably on "Victims of No Ambition" and the Cock Sparrer-esque "No Lullabies", which sounds a bit more urgent here than the early version heard on the band's three-way split with Off With Their Heads and the Riverboat Gamblers. Saves The Day's Chris Conley is also a fair comparison, vocal-wise.

Longtime bassist/vocalist Tyson "Chicken" Annicharico is the real star of the show here, however, singing lead on eight of the album's 12 tracks. It's amazing how much variety he can really bring to the table where songwriting is concerned within the context of what are, on the surface, simple punk rock songs. The verses of "The Hand With Inherited Rings" carries a "Blue Album"-era Weezer vibe in its verses, while the bouncy chorus of "The Monarch Hotel" is as danceable as anything that bands like MGMT or Foster the People are putting out.

Matt Allison, notable for his production work with bands like Alkaline Trio and the Lawrence Arms, sat behind the boards for Moscow Penny Ante, and he has given the record a sound that is both raw and huge-sounding at the same time. It really sounds like the band is playing right in front of you.

Moscow Penny Ante is another left turn for Dead to Me. They've gone back to the aggression that made us all fall in love with the band in the first place, but they've retained the maturity and sharper songwriter that marked their previous full-length. They continue to defy expectations, and bounce back from lineup turnovers just as strong as ever. Moscow Penny Ante is a bold statement, so I'll end with a bold statement of my own; Dead to Me has released the best punk rock album of 2011.