Confines Of Life (LP)
(Dirt Cult Records)
I confess that I spent most of my first play through Confines Of Life, Neighborhood Brats’ third full-length album (and my first exposure to the band), just trying to figure out where to start with it. Somehow, it just wasn’t easy to effectively catch or contain the band; from note one of “Who Took The Rain” (which opens the album’s A-side), the band is just off on its way and clearly off it’s leach as guitarist George Rager propels drummer Nick Aguilar and bassist Mike West along beneath a current which is equally indebted to a directory of great rock, punk indie and rockabilly acts (including Husker Du, The Cramps, Reverend Horton Heat and later-period Creepshow) – but is so relentless and ceaseless in its delivery that listeners will quickly come to feel overwhelmed.
It was on my second play through Confines Of Life that I was really able to find and understand some of the nuance in it but, once I did, I also fell in love with the album. After “Who Took The Rain” sets the tone and standard the A-side of the album, “Signs and Semantics” upholds the rockabilly values in the band and actually outraces bands like The Creepshow (which could be seen as existing in a similar vein to Neighborhood Brats) with raw amphetamine-fueled power before “Miss America Pageant” changes gears and focuses more on a boot boy-informed melodic hardcore sound – with which the band sticks for the rest of the side with excellent results. Cuts like “Transitional Housing” and “We’ll Find You” see the band blast earnestly through every change and always makes sure that singer Jenny Angelilla remains steadfast at the front of each composition which is great. Listeners will find that, eventually, their own eyes brighten as soon as the singer enters the mix of each song and, after “We’ll Find You” blasts its way out triumphantly using that exact same kind of power, listeners will be rushing back to their turntables to flip the album over and keep the proverbial energy up.
The B-side actually does better than the A-side did in its play and development, and starts as soon as “Harvey Weinstein (Is A Symptom)” indicts the men on the scene (who, other than Harvey, remain nameless – thereby implying that the gender as a whole is in the cross hairs here) amid a lean melodic hardcore assault which keeps the band’s performance neat and tight (and condensed down to a minute and twenty seconds), and can hook listeners really, really well. The tempo and tenor of the song and vocals are infectious and will have listeners locked in right away, and that energy endures as the band continues to offer the right sentiments (“All Nazis Must Die”) and retrofit their punk base with great profile features (surf rock, in this case) before cross-wiring some social commentary with some bright and glossy pop tones that no fan of The Runaways would be able to turn away from in “I Weep For The Future.”
Now, the funny thing about “I Weep For The Future” is that, while there is a little dissonance between the chord progression and vocal melody, there is panic, anxiety and anger splashed all over the song too, but particularly in lines like “Overlooked, pushed aside/Choked out life, and empty fight” and “They said they had no way around it/ They said we has no time to plan” which are potent and aggressive, contrasted by the speed of the song’s delivery. Simply said, it’s a great song – but listeners will only be able to get a good grasp on the finer points of it with repeated listens. Happily, the same is true of the more Dead Kennedys-informed cut that follows it (“Migraines” – which touches on different emotional states and how overwhelming they can be, before Angelilla wonders, “Will this be the end of me” in a very “X or John Doe/Exene Cervenka”-inspired sort of way.
Happily, the side does not stay long on the sort of emotional over-analysis which powers “Migraines,” and up-shifts into more pop punk swagger with “LeBron James.” There, Angelilla commits completely to a Cervenka-esque demeanor as she throws her persona around in the song’s mix (see lines like, “Don’t wanna play your head games/Ain’t gonna be a chaser/ Tired of hanging on every word/ Tired of never being heard”) and really commands listeners’ attention through the song while the band lays up to give her the space she needs in the mix.
After “LeBron James” lets out, Neighborhood Brats takes one last soft of encore by knocking out a solid cover of Joan Jett’s “I Want You” which plays okay – but can’t stop itself from straddling the extremes of “cotton candy” and “barbed wire.” It’s a respectable presentation, for that reason – there’s just enough crunch to leave those who have run front-to-back with Confines Of Life sneering slightly as the needle lifts, however this critic questions the wisdom of leaving a cover as the final word on the album. The song might have been better served as the second song on the B-side, or the second-to-last one; it sounds good, but just is not the best close for the album.
As imperfectly as it closes though, those who run front-to-back with Confines Of Life will go to great lengths to extoll the virtues of the album. There are some spectacular songs here and while it might not be perfect, it is perfectly accessible and will make fans of those who encounter it, easily; it doesn’t pale in the slightest upon repeated listens. Without intending to be impudent, Confines Of Life is not perfect, but it is excellent and seems destined to break this band wide open. [Bill Adams]
Confines Of Life is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.