Mischief Brew - O' Pennsyltucky [Cassette] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Mischief Brew

O' Pennsyltucky [Cassette] (2014)


The Stone Operation, Mischief Brew’s last LP, bore a minor controversy. The album was a hard charging, kicking, electric anarcho-punk album (and their best release to date). It displayed both of the band’s core strengths. First, as always, song composition came first, and each of the songs were dynamic, shifting, and twisting as the band raced toward the end, and in several instances, even blowing up at the end like the earliest Greg Ginn tunes. Second, despite that the band kept the amps at 10, they maintained the knotty, shambolic nature of their identity. They blasted it out like the Subhumans, but there was a little bit of “O Danny Boy” in the edges.

But, that rankled some fans. Whether or not its accurate, the perception of Mischief Brew is that they started out as an acoustic-punk act. One imagines top hats with the top flipped open, heavy jackets with patches on the elbows, and perhaps a stick with a bag tied around the end. Yet, it would seem that Mischief Brew hasn’t always been comfortable with this distinction. Frontman Erik Petersen at time has embraced “folk-punk,” or at least acoustic-punk, and played the solo-guy-goes-acoustic set many times (though even then, his performance is combustible.) But, he’s also tried to distance himself from tags themselves, namely “folk punk.”

So, that’s why the group’s new EP, and precursor to their upcoming album, is a curious animal. In fact, by design or by nature, the band seems to have found the slim space satisfying both drives. “O, Pennsyltucky” is an electric number, and like most great MB tunes, it grows in intensity and heavy rumbling on the bottom end until it blasts apart at the end. But, because the band is so devoted to song craft, as the electric guitar twinkles in the beginning and as Peterson stretches out his delivery, this feels like a campfire song- even though a full band smashes away. Though, this isn’t just Petersen doing the heavy lifting.

The band is growing in both craft and execution. As the song rises in intensity, feeling like a roller coaster on the way up, feedback drifts in the background before it morphs into a guitar riff. Drummer Chris Petersen, ever so delicately, gets harder and larger with each drum strike so the song starts off gentle, but by the end, is a pounder, despite that the change is never perceptible.

Likewise, the band is getting more complex with the subject matter. While earlier Mischief Brew songs were often “I hate cops” or “working people should be treated nicer,” the message of “O’ Pennsyltucky” is more indefinite. At one moment, Petersen is slapping Pennsylvania across the face, calling Philly “Hostile City” and hissing at the Three Mile Island fiasco. But, despite the band’s snapping, they also seems to be a fondness for the area displayed in intonation as much as words. Perhaps as the band grows to middle age, they’re learning things aren’t as simple as they once thought.

B-side “We are the ground” is more in vein of “Classic” Mischief Brew. A jangly acoustic number, the tune sounds like it could have come from the 30’s. But, in the band’s vitriolic humor, they make light of Ann Coulter’s gruesome death and set a toast when demons grow wings. Likewise, “Dirty Overhauls,” which is both a re-working of a Woody Guthrie song and a re-working of a Chris Neumann recording plays heavy on the Americana angle. Like the a-side, it’s an electric rocker, but the rhythm is borrowed straight from George Washington’s own drummer. And like the a-side, the band both salutes and frowns at American history by ganking the swinging riff. It’s too early to say what the next Mischief Brew album will sound like, but if these tracks are any indication, it will be their most daring, and most nuanced, release to date.