The Killer Smiles - Raising The Stakes (Cover Artwork)

The Killer Smiles

Raising The Stakes (2020)

Die Laughing

East Bay Ray of Dead Kennedys fame has fired back up his side project The Killer Smiles with Raising The Stakes, propping his signature surf/punk guitar riffs up against twelve brand new songs.

The album doesn't waste any time, locking in the EBR guitar tone on the title track and establishing a high energy level, "You're Such A Fake" haunts with familiar delay and reverb effects that carry over to the leads of "Area 51," featuring a nice driving beat from drummer Steve Wilson.

Wilson and Ray are joined with Greg Reeves and Ron "Skip" Greer, all showcasing the current Dead Kennedys touring line-up, and you can tell by how solid and cohesive the release is. The long desert rock of "The Runner" is no exception, and the slow number builds fantastically for four minutes. "It's Broken" is a great moment on the record, and a shining vocal watermark for singer Skip.

"Lipstick Cherry Red" bleeds of influence from Butthole Surfers vocalist, and album producer Paul Leary, and "Safe and Sound" buries lead guitar parts with Clash level ska. "I'm A User" pays homage to the pop elements of a classic Rancid song, and is the catchiest song on the album. The Killer Smiles thoughtfully step in and out of different boxes throughout the record in a terrific way. "The Last Time You Failed" is a tremendous moment on the album, allowing Skip to establish a true writing identity that yanks him far away from just being "that guy from Wynona Riders that sings Jello's parts in Dead Kennedys."

"The Heart Is Something" drops the tempo to a slow, somber slow jam, and "The Hardest Part" picks it right back up with tough riffs and heavy 4/4 drumming. "Sixteen Tons" is an interesting closer, with vintage boppy rock rhythms guided by Skip's vocals. It is a peculiar but acceptable send-off.

Raising The Stakes does just that, but paid off; giving East Bay Ray's sore thumb tones and style a chance to scream new material, while also offering his touring bandmates a chance to do their own thing for once. It is a cool, easy listen. Would recommend.