Mischief Brew - This is Not for Children (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Mischief Brew

This is Not for Children (2015)

Alternative Tentacles

This is Not for Children is Mischief Brew laid bare. Right away, the first noticeable thing about the album is that the band’s clattering, skittering, clacking racket has been boiled away, leaving just the band’s three main instruments. Likewise, where the band used to be a rolling tumbleweed, speeding up as the wind would direct them, they now are firmly in the driver’s seat. These tunes radiate with the high adrenaline, vibrating pulse of early and mid-anarcho punk. But, whereas many of those early anarcho-heroes kept themselves coated in grime and glass, there is a clearer, brighter sound here, a la New Model Army or even Stratford Mercenaries. That is to say, this is the release where frontman Erik Peterson pulls open his chest and says, “take a look.”

Mischief Brew’s early dalliances were big picture projections. “Nomad’s revolt,” “A Liquor Never Brewed,” and “The Preacher and The Slave” all strove to say fundamental truths through mass-social commentary. You’ll find little of that here. By contrast, this album seems to come from the band’s own personal (and deeply personal at that) experiences. “Lancaster Avenue Blues” is a direct condemnation of how the band has seen their very homes warped by gentrification. Even more direct is “O, Pennsyltucky,” which finds the band both spitting at, and embracing, their homeland: “O, Pennsyltucky, the three mile islands/ the coal fires buckle the miner’s highways/ I’d love just to leave you, but it’s good to see you, and old filth-fadelphia, hostile city, PA!”

In fact, this central conflict is what drives the album. Throughout the release, the band seems uneasy, unsure. Is Philadelphia, the land of hoagies, the land of mixed culture, the land of bar brawls, the land of predatory land purchasers, worth saving? If we listen closely to “O’Pennsyltucky,” Petersen’s unique skill evolves into something even more faceted than it was before. As always, Petersen’s gift id in his authenticity. His voice fluctuates subtly as the song grows in tension. He sings from his throat and then his stomach. But, unlike so many other singers, these aren't vocal tricks used as substitute for sentimentality. As Petersen blends melancholy with rage with a sort of cold-love in his intonation, you can tell he means it. He lives this. This is real. Perhaps’s Mischief Brew’s core strength is that there is no performance art here- only raw soul. And yet, this opens another door. Petersen, when reflecting on his homeland’s flaws and virtues, seems weirdly over concerned with the landscape. One wonders if Petersen’s inner-debate judgment of the land is merely proxy for a larger issue…

This is one of the things that makes this album feel like a massive work, despite its mere ten song tracklist. There are no throw away songs, or quick tunes used to build up tension before the next “real song.” Each of these tracks is a massive slice and each has heavy concept woven through its chords. But, despite that this album has a lot to chew, and a good deal of it verges into the darker regions, paradoxically, the band is having a blast. There are some of their brightest tunes. Most of the songs are hard charging, with wall sized guitars, and excitable energy. Bassist Shawn St. Clair’s bouncing bass on “Squatter Envy” both is an homage to mid-80’s English punk and makes the song sound like the kind of song where you want to lock arms with a pretty girl and do some sort of stomp-dance. Likewise, a tip of the hat must be given to drummer Chris Petersen who rolls out a gin-joint cadence on “Danger, falling Pianos” that makes the tirade against economic abuse sound like a Great Gatsby favorite.

It’s in these moments that This is Not for Children defines itself and also functions as the opposite of the previous LP, The Stone Operation. That album found the band having a party- running from demons, making war sound like an action movie, yukking it up in Eastern Europe- yet with all the clanging and banging, the album had a sinister bend to it, especially in the end where the specter of Nick Blinko dragged Erik Petersen into the abyss. But here, the band ruminates on heavy, heavy, heavy concepts- destruction of one’s identity, an entire town engulfed by flames, suffering through the winter with no heat- yet the album is big, loud, and bright… until the end, when we get the idea that Peterson really talks about what’s been bugging him through the entire album, and we might learn why he’s been weighing the value and vice of “Philadelphia.”

“Slow Death Hymn” runs through a list of just how cruel mortality can be- cancer, heroin, suicide. Notably, at the very end, Petersen calls out in that distinctively tender and raw voice, “I’ll take life, don’t care if it’s fair!” These are the words that the band has been building towards since their first demo tape and, frankly, they are profound.