Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.
I was told to look out for Jock Tears because chances were they’d be all over the place.
A Vancouver-based friend sent me a catching up email, and the above detail was noted after I told her I’d be attending an event called the Backyard Bunkhouse BBQ Brawl and Rock ‘n Wrestling Rager 2: The Thrilla in Tukwila (still a mouthful even though I’ve said it dozens of times). She has a friend in the band. Par for the course; when you’re involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene, pretty much everybody is a friend or a friend of a friend. I went into Jock Tears’ performance in the oppressively hot parking lot of Randy’s knowing next-to-nothing about the band except the secondhand knowledge that their lead singer, Lauren Ray, is “a lil’ spitfire!”
As sweat soaked through my suit pants, I stood from the side of the stage and watched as Ray climbed the steel cage surrounding it (a structure most of the bands took a go at during their performances) and mounted a bicycle and attempted to sing and pedal at the same time (a feat most certainly tried by no one else that day). Before and after a few wobbly bars on the bike, Ray sang, shouted, barked, and crooned her way through one of the most fun half-hours of live music I’ve seen all year; her presence as tall as the ten-foot-high fence.
The three instrumentalists of the band – Spencer Hargreaves on guitar, Lauren Smith on bass, and Dustin Bromley on drums – rocked their way through a spate of melodic and playfully ferocious punk instantly reminiscent of dearly (long-)departed Mika Miko. If the beloved Los Angeles punks ever go on a reunion tour, I don’t think there would be a better support act out there than Jock Tears. Certainly the latter serves as a spiritual successor of the former, containing a wisecracking and buoyant sort of confidence and joyously brash volume levels.
Bad Boys, the Canadian quartet’s debut full-length, also bears a striking, incorporeal similarity to the current vanguard of Seattle feminist punk -- Shame Spiral-era Tacocat most notably -- as they wield not only profound quick-draw skills in the three power chord realm but also a recess singalong sensibility, vast dexterity in irreverence. Smith does that thing all great punk bassists do, creating countermelodies instead of just low end to make the songs sound fuller. Hargreaves wrings pop out of even the loudest of power chords. Bromley manages to do the most difficult task for a drummer: keeping immaculate time and making it sound totally effortless.
Over powerful, bite-sized blasts of music, the lyrics sung by Ray skewer and confront the titular bad boys in ways that are straightforward (“Not Yr Sweetheart,” decrying pet names and 3 a.m. texts, “Nasty Boy,” declaring she’s not a plaything), specifically regional (“Kits Bro,” named after a particular Vancouver constituency), and so nakedly uncool they’re actually a little cool (“See Ya Later Alligator,” no explanation necessary). The latter’s refrain of, “It’s such a shame you’re such a square” shows this particular kiss-off is an ironic and writerly sleight of hand. It’s masterful.
The 18-minute album is packed with highlights, very aligned with the classic punk spirit of putting all the best parts in a song and not having much time for the remainder. “Bad Boyz” wrestles the term away from the clutches of toxic masculinity and throws it right back in its faceless visage, leather jacket-clad and “looking for lust, forget romance!” “Nasty Boy” eyes the leering dude every woman has encountered at a party: “You’re charming, just like a snake.” “Boys with Bruises” profiles a hate-crush with shitty tattoos and features an exclamation of the album’s thesis: “Misogyny makes me sick!” There’s freewheeling speculative fiction about Neil Young (not the one who recorded After the Gold Rush), there’s an ode to a bag of party ice.
Something about when a jock cries
Makes me want to cry too
It’s sad and it’s funny to see muscle men feel blue
They’re meant to be so tough
But even sometimes, they’ve had enough
Ray’s spoken-word intro to “Jock Tears,” one of the most emotionally complex eponymous tracks any band has ever recorded, reveals a sweet sensitivity which belies the general feeling punks have toward jocks – emphasized by the glimmering jangle of Hargreaves’ guitar line. Crouched in the wistful sadness of seeing an athlete getting a tooth chipped by a baseball or crying in a headlock is subtle comedy; in the striking commentary of masculinity being synonymous with stoicism, an admission the very idea is kind of ridiculous.
Bad Boys is wildly successful at displaying Jock Tears as top-level punk feminism satirists, but also reflects a wide array of emotions hidden in the Trojan Horse of being absolutely badass and the highlight of any house party with a live band begging to have the cops called by the neighbors. Or a garage-rock cage battle adorned with bleachers, bales of hay, and a wrestling ring. Or pretty much anywhere, really. Just make sure wherever their music happens to materialize, there’s enough party ice stocked in the cooler.
The Black Tones Release They Want Us Dead, an 8-Bit Video Game
When we premiered "They Want Us Dead," I said about the track: "There is a sort of histrionic fervor that accompanies the frustrating pointlessness of racism, but here on 'The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead),' the message is delivered as a needling, embedded fact. There’s no need to overstate seeing hate in the eyes of those who hate us; many of us have seen that hate all of our lives." Yesterday, Afropunk premiered the online version of their video game titled after the song. In They Want Us Dead, you are able to guide either frontwoman (and KEXP Audioasis host) Eva Walker or bassist Cedric Walker through city sidewalks filled with neo-Nazis, alt-right shitkickers, hooded goons, the President of the United States, and other sorts of general racist scum. If you like kicking the ass of white supremacy, it's addictive fun. Play the game here.
The Vancouver band's fourth release in a little over two years is a high-concept ball of threadbare post-punk. In a special Friday edition of Throwaway Style, Martin Douglas explores the shades of green displayed on the album.