More than the other things that Songs! From The Bathroom Stall? certainly represents for Houston and the Dirty Rats, the most important rule to keep in mind when listening to the band’s new EP is that it’s unwise to judge a book by its cover. Were one to delve no deeper than just a superficial look or cursory glance. This 7” EP would seem like a totally lighthearted affair; between the garish, neon green filter which was applied to the cover and the fact that the band-members have assumed the position which is customary for standing at urinals. The assumption that listeners will soon be subjected to an unbroken stream of dick and fart jokes is both an easy and obvious one to make. As soon as a turntable’s needle catches the groove and sets the EP on its way though, listeners will realize just how foolish they were.
When the needle touches down and The Lying Game opens the EP’s A-side, listeners’ eyes will widen involuntarily and remain that way for the duration of the EP’s running. There, tight drums and a frenetic bass line drive the song and set listeners’ hearts racing before singer/guitarist Houston Herman begins laying down a speedy, distorted guitar figure; guaranteed to make the hairs on listeners’ collective neck stand at attention. The effect is easily the most potent thing to come from a new punk band in years – but all doubt is removed soon after Herman begins unloading a guttural rasp of a vocal line that is simultaneously disquieting and very, very engaging.
“Th- this isn’t pop punk like I thought it would be,” listeners’ interior monologue will stammer, and there’s no doubt about that – it’ll take less than fifteen seconds for the song to rewrite listeners’ thought process. They’ll be right on board thereafter; the searing, soaring remainder of the song’s minute-and-fifty-two-second runtime will have them won (particularly lines like “These walls are closin’ in/ I’m runnin’ oxygen/ and it’s gettin’ hard to breathe”), and there will be no looking back. Dumpster Diver follows the opening cut’s lead closely as Herman growls the sonnets of gutters and his local pawn shop, and the band recaptures the vibe that NOFX bottled in 1994 to present the most refreshing skate-trash anthem they can squeeze into less than a minute and a half to close the side. In that end, listeners will be positively clamoring for more as they rush to keep the rhythm running and flip the 7” over.
…And, as the B-side opens, Houston and the Dirty Rats split the difference between Green Day and The Descendents with the absolutely fantastic and juicy fart of a song that is Public Restrooms Suck (it’s LITERALLY a cross between Green Day’s Panic Song and I Want To Be A Bear by The Descendents) before redeeming the side beautifully with Last Straw. There – in less than a damned minute – the band condenses and compacts everything that made the A-side of this EP so good: it plays at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace, Herman leaves so little space in the mix that he sounds like he might be salivating on his microphone, all three of the band-members “Oi Oi Oi” in just the right places and then the whole thing just collapses in exhaustion to let the needle lift because the whole thing’s over. Some critic might say that the B-side of this EP plays a whole lot lighter and fluffier than its counterpart, but the truth is that it plays just right and leaves just enough wanting that listeners will still be hungry for more, when the needle lifts the second time.
The hunger that the B-side of the Songs! From The Bathroom Stall? leaves with listeners is both the good and not so good thing about this EP. The songs are great, but leave listeners wanting more. Perhaps the point though – perhaps Houston and the Dirty Rats plan on answering this EP with a full-length album. Here’s hoping that we find out sooner rather than later.