The coolest thing about Harrington Saints‘ new EP is the fact that, unless you were tipped off and are expecting what the band has in store (like, if you already read this review – for example), you won’t be expecting to get your mind blown or your face melted. The reason for that really is simple: 10” releases are the dark horse pressings on a fairly niche medium. Seven-inch singles and 12” LPs are the more commonly pressed formats these days so fans are expecting great things from those, but 10” releases are less common and hold a bit of an X factor by default.
“So what’s the big deal here,” you ask? On the Fish & Chips EP, Harrington Saints pull together two parts of the punk spectrum which are normally just presumed to be mutually exclusive – the fine, nervous and poppy punk typified by the Descendents and the Bostonian side of boot boy Oi – and marry them together smoothly, neatly and in a way which feels totally natural. That the band is able to balance those two elements feels a little revolutionary in and of itself, but that the songs happen to represent a selection of the best stuff the band has released to date simply makes it a “must listen” release, without exception.
While the EP’s opening track doesn’t give much of an inkling of where the record might be headed later (“Last Call” is the definition of blustery boot boy punk in the spirit of Agnostic Front, as lyrics like “If I die in my sleep, as I lay in wake/ Make sure I’m in Docs and the laces are straight” illustrate, but with an accent included which is more ‘Boston’ than ‘Bowery’), everyone listening will be able to mark a change in Harrington Saints’ demeanor the moment that “Hands Off Our Commons” kicks off to follow the opener. There, guitarists Mike C. and Jayson Shepard spontaneously drop the more laden, Boot Boy-powered stomp which has been the ban’s go-to position since 2005 and picks up a vibe closer to Lars and The Bastards – it’s more rhythmic and mosh-y than it is militant and march-y. There’s no question that the band is excited and renewed by this change and so keeps it up excitedly through “Side By Side” which closes out the (ahem) A-side of the EP and lays as the perfect bait to flip the vinyl.
…And, good lord, is the B-Side ever better than its predecessor. On the B-side, Harrington Saints smoothe out and streamline their sound in a manner which mixes the Oi, hardcore and pop punk that fans always knew the band had in them somewhere perfectly and leaves no one wanting. First, “Let It Burn” focuses the Saints’ power into a number which has tight and thick guitars similar to Dookie-era Green Day, but takes that sound and spirit down to street level and swaggers though the alleyways to get a different flavor. Here, singer Darrell Wojick really shines as he barks out lines like “There’s an empire crumbling/ you can smell the rotting flesh in the bad part of the city/ ‘Cause the order of the day is complacency/ it blocks out all the screams” The mix of styles is both noxious and brilliant there, but it only gets better as “Stand Tall” follows up and turns punk rock into a ‘by night’ thing while daylight hours are spent in the throes of domestic struggle.
This is absolutely, positively a Descendents turn in that the band is raging against domesticity but also following its rules (Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson have been balancing this act brilliantly for decades), and listeners who recognize that will love it here and instantly want more – but the going gets still better.
Next, Harrington Saints ape the Descendents’ love of greasy food and landspeed record sound captures with “Fish & Chips.” This track is fucking brilliant because it keeps the Descendents in its periphery, but still keeps a bit of testosterone too; here, Wojick and the boys are getting drunk at the local and use greasy food to keep from getting blitzed; it’s brilliant and the fact that the band is able to pull it off in forty seconds flat makes it essential listening, without question. After that, “Junkie” rolls through again very much like a Descendents anthem (think “Jean Is Dead”), and listeners will be hooked. “Junkie” is the side-closer, but that just ensures that listeners will flip the proverbial disc again to give the A-side another try.
…And they will give the A-side another try after having gone front-to-back with this EP. Listeners who go that distance won’t even think twice because the hook will be sunk deep in them; here, Harrington Saints have found a balance and sense which doesn’t just rely on playing the same thing the same way over and over and rehashing the same tough-talking dialogue. The band has found a way to be able to get interesting and creative with their music without alienating the fans who supported them in the first place. Because of that, there’s no way to see this EP as anything other than a resounding success; here’s hoping some of the ideas broached here carry over onto the next full-length.
The Fish & Chips EP is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.