While some critics may claim that an album or artist being “derivative” is a negative trait, that’s not always true – in the right context. Sometimes, the right sequence of sonic elements can align and instantly throw listeners back into the mindset thought to be long forgotten. It can be exhilarating and comforting all at the same time, no matter how aggressive the music is. Bum City Saints‘ sophomore full-length is like that.
In the album’s twelve tracks, listeners will find sonic similarities to the guitar attack and tone that NOFX had on their seventh album, So Long And Thanks For All The Shoes (arguably the band’s closest to a straight-out skate punk album) while Bum City Saints singer/guitarist Jesper Klinghad echoes the street punk rasp that Jeff Geggos has put at the forefront of Cockney Rejects for the better part of forty years.
Will these similar threads cause listeners to scoff or dismiss what they’re hearing as “just derivative?” Likely not – if anything, those similarities will function as the gate that will draw audience members in and help to win them over for the band because, while familiar, the band also does it really, really well.
The familiarity in the band’s sound is perfectly self-evident from the moment “Count Me In” opens the A-side of Bum City Saints. There, Klinghad and bassist Travis Burns come screeching out of the blocks with some incendiary chops which spontaneously spike the adrenaline levels in those of the right mind. The energy is easy to fall into and the band’s delivery – all “go hard or get fucked” – is brilliantly infectious. For one minute and forty-seven seconds (a.k.a. the length of the song), Bum City Saints OWN listeners and effortlessly hold them hostage but, after the song cuts out, listeners will just remain shocked, dazed and motionless – like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car.
As “Bullets Not Bailouts” blasts another salvo along the same thread as “Count Me In,” Bum City Saints do not relent. This time, the band’s focus shifts from a community call to arms to a furious call out against government spending to save the top one percent. The call here is to fight back to simply retain the civil liberties of the working class (check out lines like “They’ll take your property/ They’ll take your liberty/ I hate what they believe”), and it asks listeners to educate themselves and know the stakes instead of just battling blindly. That particular ‘know your enemy’ quality about the song is one of the more revolutionary. While most punks (from Jello Biafra to Green Day) usually just expect blind acceptance about what they’re saying to audiences, Bum City Saints ask listeners to look objectively at the subject of the song and decide how to react to it on their own.
The desire to illuminate listeners both about the band itself as well as about the world within their view continues through songs like “Our Hearts Beat As One,” “Funeral Song” and “Ride The Storm.” In each of those cases, the lines between public and private views get very blurry as lines like “No happy ever after/ No fucking kingdom come/ I hear the world war choir/ Sing another funeral song” (from “Funeral Song”) blast listeners acerbically. Each time, listeners will be able to feel themselves recoil as a reflex action but, each time too, they will always rebound back quickly for more from the band because the power is just so infectious.
After the A-side runs down, there won’t even be a question about whether listeners will want more, and they’ll find that no ramp-up to get back to speed is required or offered with “Drums Of War.” The band just requires that listeners either be ready for the song or be ready to take the song’s guitar line square in the nose. Here, Klinghad barks out lines like “Fuck what you’ve heard, and fuck what you’ve seen/ You’ll find the truth down the barrel of an M-16” with all the passion required to make those who hear him also believe every word he says.
That energy and passion bleeds over into everything which follows “Drums Of War” and, while some songs could be begrudgingly called formulaic (let’s face it – there hasn’t been a single hardcore or street punk band who hasn’t written or re-written a song like “Hold The Line” in the last thirty years), not a single one of them really leaves anything to be desired. “No Regrets” is a mile-a-minute powerhouse. “Do You Remember” exudes fury at the media. “Animal Farm” rails against the internet. “Shake The Ground” wants to shake listeners violently out of their comfort zones. Each is a declaration of anger and mistrust at the socio-political climate which has overtaken North America and demands that it change. The band demands that those listening pay attention to those ills. They make their demands and then they get the hell out of the way for the next song to burst in and do it again; it’s smooth, quick and almost surgical in its precision.
…And after “Shake The Ground” ends, listeners will find themselves shocked when they learn that the entire operation – both sides, front-to-back – only took a total of about twenty-five and a half minutes to play through. That, for those keeping score, works out to about two minutes per song. Listeners will be left wondering how they could possibly be so winded after such a short run. But it’s undeniable: Bum City Saints will run you hard, reader, but you’ll love it.
(Pirates Press Records)