I would first like to say “greetings” to all you wonderful Radio Free Chicago readers. I could not be more excited to be contributing to a blog of such prestige and working with some of the best music writers not only in Chicago, but just about anywhere. As a college student in Bloomington-Normal by way of the northern suburbs, this opportunity is monumental and comes with a responsibility I do not take lightly. Despite never having lived in Chicago proper, I’ve still managed to stay well versed in the happenings in Chicago’s ever flourishing and always exciting underground punk music scene. Chicago has been long been a home for some of the most influential and profoundly exciting punk music in the world. I look forward to bringing you my insight to what’s happening Chicago, and why punk still matters.
If you have been to a punk rock show in Chicago within the last 3 years there is a solid chance you have rubbed shoulders with a tender and decidedly alluring gentleman by the name of Tobias “Toby” Jeg. This black-hoodie-clad chap is the owner, founder, CEO, mailroom boy, coffee fetcher and czar of Red Scare Industries, the label responsible for some of the biggest releases of 2010 (see: The Menzingers, Vultures United, Brendan Kelly [The Lawrence Arms/The Falcon] & Joe McMahon [Smoke or Fire] acoustic split Wasted Potential). 2010 has been pretty spectacular for Jeg and his comrades, but it just got a whole lot better with the release of Species Bender, the fourth full-length release for suburban Chicago natives The Brokedowns who just so happen to be from the same neck of the woods as myself.
In the wake of mainstream pop punk, guy-linered bands whose relevance have since dripped down into the sloppily down-strummed air guitars of drunk frat boys in less than spectacular bars have sullied the perception of punk music for those not active in the scene. Luckily bands like The Brokedowns are beginning to emerge with sonic middle fingers to their power chord archetypes. Species Bender is a stark reminder to those who had given up on punk that there are young bands who don’t subscribe to the empirical formula of C-F-G chord progressions, skateboarding, and high school break ups. The tight amalgam of hilarious and astutely scrutinizing lyrics that beckon the listener to sing loud and sing proud is layered over tightly strung progressions and melodic riffs that are never overwhelming draw fair comparison to Gainesville FLA’s second most recognizable punk quartet Hot Water Music. Above all else, Species Bender is a party album that is just at home in 5:15 rush hour scream-offs as it is in a wood paneled bar slinging cheap brews with bearded dudes in flannel and tattoos of Mexican skeletons on their forearms.
Opening track “Wizard Creeper” is a 1:17 surge of clarified chant punk decrying over dependence on capitalist media that defies you to unsubscribe from your CNN RSS feed: “you could tell me that the planet was aflame and I’d believe it–you could tell me that the sky was made of flames and I wouldn’t have to see it.” Over-indulgence in mass media weaves a common thread throughout, however The Brokedowns beg to not be taken too seriously; “Apocalypse Seaside Heights” decries Snooki, The Situation and the rest of the Jersey Shore cast as the onset of the end of the world (I foresee spray-tanned hell hounds and creatine soaked hellspawn donning blowouts). Personal favorite “Celebrity Death Panel” starts off with a guitar riff that sounds equally at home on a Rancid album. The California swagger continues throughout the rest of the tune, and creates the partiest of songs on the pariest of albums I’ve heard thus far in 2010.
Chances are that Species Bender won’t be the album you remember most at the end of 2010, but that’s because it has potential to be the soundtrack of every whiskey binge, extraneous beer run, and bummed cigarette that gets you through the shortening fall. Thanks to bands like The Brokedowns, punk rock is shedding its eyeliner and power ballad persona and bearing its razor sharp and raucous teeth once again.
The Brokedowns will be playing Thursday October 7 at The Metro during the Red Oktboberfest portion of the upcoming punk festive Riot Fest, featuring some of the biggest punk bands in Chicago and the country: Bad Religion, The Lawrence Arms, The Bouncing Souls, Smoking Popes, Cobra Skulls, The Menzningers and a shit ton more. 5 day passes are sold out, but individual show tickets are still available.