Downtown Boys - Cost of Living (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Downtown Boys

Cost of Living (2017)

Sub Pop

My hometown heroes, Downtown Boys, have been on an upward trajectory ever since the buzz about their album Full Communism allowed them to graduate from smaller Don Giovanni Records to legendary label Sup Pop Records. But has being on the label that Nirvana got their start on changed Providence, Rhode Island’s own self-described "bilingual political dance sax punk party"? Well, yes, but not in the ways that you might expect for on their Sub Pop debut.

If Full Communism softened the edges off the bands’ self-titled debut album, Cost of Living softens those edges further. Frontwoman Victoria Ruiz still defiantly refuses to sing, choosing instead to shout every lyric. But, on this album, the guitars and saxophone have blended together into such a nice smooth sound that the abrasiveness of Ruiz’s vocal style is undercut very nicely. Like many bands do after a few albums, Downtown Boys have started to pull in some pop influences. But the pop influences Downtown Boys are pulling from aren’t modern ones like Fallout Boy or Blink-182 or anything like that. For Cost of Living—aside from the obvious comparison they always get to X-Ray Spex because of the saxophone—Downtown Boys pull more from early pop-punk artists like The Jam, Blondie, and The Slits.

A lot of the songs have longer, slower intros than what we heard on Full Communism. Opening track and lead single, A Wall, has a nice, long slow-burn of an intro. What I love about A Wall is that, while it’s obviously a response to Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, the song refuses to be angry in its political statement, but is rather disdainfully dismissive of Trump’s impossible proposed project. Ruiz, as always, slips back and forth between English and Spanish, but the fury in her voice translates into any language. “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pandejas)” (roughly translated to “We’re Cute (We’re Not Bitches)”), another single off the album, and “Clara” are powerful punk anthems that you don’t need to be able to understand to enjoy. The spoken track “Heroes,” an interlude that serves as an introduction to “Lips That Bite” and which comes back around on the outro “Bulletproof,” is cool because it describes a utopian future achieved because people actually took responsibility for specific issues instead of ignoring them. The spoken word segment delivers this matter-of-factly as if introducing a segment of Radiolab, before launching into one of the most pristinely melodic tracks on the album.

Cost of Living doesn’t sound like an album released in 2017, but rather comes across as a throwback to about 1978 and the most glorious melodies that punk produced back then. Victoria Ruiz presents herself as a classic punk frontwoman with a complete sense of confidence in the project she’s putting forward. With the classic sound, but Downtown Boys’ unending commitment to address modern issues, Cost of Living stands out as one of the best albums of the year so far, and the best album that Downtown Boys have put out to date.