GnarBoots - A.L.B.U.M. (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


A.L.B.U.M. (2012)

Asian Man Records

GnarBoots don't sing about fighting cops. GnarBoots don't sing about racial tension at Gilman Street. GnarBoots don't flip off major labels. But, between their willingness to mix genres until they are unidentifiable, their willingness to poke fun at others and themselves and their just plain weirdness, GnarBoots are punk rock manifest.

A.L.B.U.M.* follows several mixtapes and immediately noticeable is that their proper debut is somewhat less all over the map than its predecessors. Where the Happy Birthday mixtape gleefully ripped from techno hip-hop to hardcore to white people ska to '80s homage, A.L.B.U.M. finds the band exploring different aspects of punk and rock-based music.

The decision does rob the band somewhat of its complete off-the-wallness, but gives the piece a more complete sound. Unlike the mixtapes, A.L.B.U.M. is a unified piece. Throughout the tracks, the guitar of Adam Davis (ex-Desa, Link 80) stitches the songs together, and creates cohesion, with warm, but slightly aggressive tones.

As before, the band features some of their its aspects. "Tinnitus" is an '80s hardcore thrasher which pays tribute to hearing damage. "Party" is a sunny three-chorder which details the wonderfulness of seeing boobs.

Most interestingly, the band has developed a previously unseen seriousness. The two part "Japan" finds Bob Vielma detailing his year in Japan in combination of joyful reflection and some ambiguous melancholy, built around a Weezerish rhythm. What did he leave in Japan that finds him calling out "Wooaaaaooohhh" in a way that could be a cry for help or joy?

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of A.L.B.U.M. is when it is unclear if they are poking fun or being serious. "Indian Summer" finds the group flipping from a '90s alt rock feel to a dread-inducing drone with the refrain "There's time to sleep in the grave." Are they making fun of goth, or are they lamenting the limitations of the flesh?

But, while GnarBoots have gotten somewhat more serious, the random wackiness is still present to keep things interesting and confusing. On opener "Brother," Aaron Carnes closes the last 3/4 of the song with the scat refrain "" for no reason at all, only to clear it out with some screams of pain. What. Is. Going. On.

It's unclear what is happening on this release. The message, if there is one, is muddled, befuddled and counter intuitive. But, that's sort of the point. The message is not spoon-fed, and the listener is forced to do the mental work and decide how to use the tools provided by the band. It's random and wacky and a little dangerous. That's pretty punk rock if you ask me.

*The band never explains the abbreviation of the title. Such is the puzzle that is GnarBoots.