X - Alphabetland (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Alphabetland (2020)

Fat Possum Records

These are strange times we’re living in, and not just for the obvious reasons. Another beloved, long-running punk band has released a new album without any fanfare or even a fair warning. The original X lineup unceremoniously dropped Alphabetland on April 22nd, 2020. It’s their first record since 1985 to include Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake. (It’s been 27 years since the last X studio LP, Hey Zeus!, which featured guitarist Tony Gilkyson.) I must say, this album is a silver lining in a sky of black clouds.

Alphabetland sounds like it could have arrived between Los Angeles and Wild Gift. That’s how well the band succeeded at capturing their classic sound. The 11 tracks sort of effortlessly breeze by in a mere 27 minutes. That’s a good thing. They didn’t feel the need to step outside of their strengths to make their studio comeback unnecessarily epic. Just doing what they do best is more than enough. Sure, the voices are a little more frayed, but they still have that magic when they blend.

There really isn’t a weak track on Alphabetland. (With the possible exception of the closer, but it’s complicated and we’ll get to that later.) The title track starts things off and pretty much lays all of your fears to rest. If not, the second song, “Free”, almost certainly will. By the time “Water & Wine” rolls around, you should be relaxed, if not elated. Pretty much every song is a highlight, but especially the choppy, autobiographical “Strange Life”, “Angel on the Road” and “Goodbye Year, Goodbye”. “Delta 88 Nightmare” is amazing, and one of the most frantically aggressive tracks in X’s 40 plus year history.

“Cyrano DeBerger’s Back” is a Flesh Eaters cover from their 1981 album A Minute to Pray A Second to Die. Doe and Bonebrake were famously in the ever-shifting Flesh Eaters lineup for that record. It works really well as a Cervenka/Doe duet, and might be the rare case where a reworking surpasses the original. Closer, “All the Time in the World”, is a poignant, beatnik type of spoken word piece, with a little bit of jazzy noodling in the background. It’s enjoyable, and I’m glad it’s on the album, but I’m not sure I need to hear it every time I spin the other 10 tracks.

One of the great things about X, is that they’re a punk band that wasn’t really influenced by punk. They’ve always had a sound that was all their own. Somehow, 40 years later, that fundamental sound is still intact. More than that, instead of sounding stale, it feels like a breath of fresh air. In a world of homogenized punk, it’s good to be able to throw on a record like Alphabetland and be reminded of what a rich tapestry punk can be.

*One quick note to all you collector nerds. This is currently only available digitally, but pre-orders are up for several different vinyl versions, which are supposed to ship in August.